A Time to Keep

Garden Benches (C) Rosemary McMahan

April 30, 2021

“A time to keep, and a time to throw away.” Eccl. 3: 6

A few days ago, we entertained a couple in our home for dinner—a couple we had not seen in well over a year due to the pandemic.  On the one hand, the experience felt surreal, and on the other, it felt like we had picked up right where we left off, as if the pandemic had been some kind of time warp.

After catching up on our lives over the past thirteen months (not that there was a lot to tell), our friend asked a question.  He said, “What it is that you want to keep from this pandemic experience, that you don’t want to lose as we go back to our routines?”  I found his question thought-provoking and deserving of reflection.  As I have mentioned in a couple of former blogs, I believe that the pandemic gave all of us, the global community, a time to reassess and reconsider how we want to spend our lives and who we want to be, who we want our communities, our nations, our world to be.  The four of us shared our various thoughts, and a common thread was a desire to keep a sense of discernment before jumping right back into all those obligations and commitments, to weigh what and who are life-giving and what and who are not, to decide where and with whom we are called to expend energy, and where and with whom we are not.  In other words, we have been given the opportunity to decide, with love and wisdom, what time to keep and what time to let go.

After reflecting on the conversation, the well-known passage from Ecclesiastes Chapter Three of the Old Testament came to mind.  The Book of Ecclesiastes is considered part of the “Wisdom” tradition of Hebrew Scripture and is thought to have been written sometime between c. 450–200 BCE, over two thousand years ago. The first eight verses state that there is a time and a season for every aspect and experience of human life.  Plagues and pandemics and political upheaval were as much a part of life then as they are now, and the author knew something of what he wrote.  As he pairs each experience, each time and season, he invites us to discern, to listen with our hearts, to the seasons that we are in and to perhaps even discover a blessing, or at least a reassurance, that there is something to be learned, a gift to be received.  Who we are as we exit each season says something about how we lived through it.

We have been in a long and, in parts of the world, continuing season of dying, of weeping, of not touching, of silence, and we are all ready for it to end, but what will we keep without rushing back to a normal that no longer really exists?  What has become something unexpectedly precious to us?  What is one insight, one observation, one “ah ha!” moment, one touch of the heart, one glimpse of the Divine One, one understanding that gently unfolded for us and has the capacity to make us more loving and our lives more sacred?  Those are questions worth our reflection; those are questions that can transform us, and, in turn, transform the world.  Blessings to you ~ Rosemary

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

The Year that Wasn’t

New oak leaves.

April 16, 2021

Recently I had the opportunity, after over a year, to visit a friend and have a cup of tea with her.  As we conversed about the ongoing pandemic, she referred to 2020 as “the year that wasn’t.”  At first I thought that was a clever and succinct summary of 2020 when the world was locked away in fear and all its usual activities upended and canceled.  In many regards, it did indeed feel like the year that wasn’t, a year that put most things on hold, a wasted year.  Yet the more I pondered that summary, the more it rubbed against me.  I don’t want to come out of that time as if it were all for nothing; I want to come out of that time as a new creation.

The Franciscan monk Richard Rohr spends much conversation and writing on “The Transformative Journey,” the three stages of what I call times of “unraveling”:  1. Order; 2. Disorder; 3. Reorder.  Order is the period of time when we are living our lives without much awareness.  Everything is going okay.  We are in charge and self-sufficient.  We have our calendars, meetings, and agendas, and our attention is on how productive we are as we await affirmations and raises and the next step up a ladder that leads to more significance in society’s eyes.  And then, something happens, something we have absolutely no control over, and the floor gives way beneath us and the sky falls upon us and everything we know unravels.  The pandemic was/is a time of that exact disorder.

We could, of course, remain stuck in the disorder.  We could come out of the pandemic returning to our original order, which is what I fear most of the world will do.  We will go back to our routines, our schedules, our unawareness and self-sufficiency, reliant on ourselves, not on Divine Love, the Source that runs through all of these seasons.  We will want things to be the way they’ve always been because it’s more comfortable that way, and in making those choices, the poor will remain poor, the rich will remain rich, the marginalized and oppressed will stay as they are, power will continue to corrupt, worship will be stale, creation will be plundered, and Love will be an empty word.

But there is another way, the harder way.  We can refuse to go back to the year that wasn’t and the false order that existed before it.  We can take time to reflect on who we have become in these past thirteen months and who we want to be.  We can ask, “What was so great about how things were?  Do we really want all of that again?”  We can discern what and who we are willing to give our time and attention to, and what and who we are not.  We can take back our voices and speak out against what isn’t of Love.  In entering reorder, we can seek what Rohr describes in this stage:  “A mysterious and graced experience of God’s presence can be tasted and increasingly frees the will to be aligned with God’s will for the love and healing of the world.”

Love and healing, seeds planted in the year that wasn’t, seeds of possibility for new beginnings and new creations.  We have been given an opportunity to nurture those seeds together, to water them with Divine Love, and to allow them to spread from our own hearts, our own love and healing for ourselves, out into the world.  We don’t have to go back to “normal” because normal wasn’t working.  Instead, we can be agents of resurrection working with the Creator of All and turn the pandemic into blessing.

Blessings to you for new creation. ~ Rosemary