I keep waking up with a feeling of profound anxiety. When I wake the anxiety momentarily balances, like a hat resting on a doll, upon something I am not truly anxious about–the state of the kitchen dishes, a friend I forgot to call back, I never did write that thank you note…then the soapy water of sleep swirls away and the thin drain appears: the pandemic.
In general I am not an anxious person but I do like to forecast forward, and I am pessimistic. I have realistic projections of situations, and because of this I am rarely surprised by things. Though we read the news of the virus, the lockdowns, and the rate of infection in China in January, looking back if feels like we treated it as deeply other, as a nearly fictitious level of science reality. The way in which the pandemic has been handled by American federal authorities has been so outrageously bad that it feels like no projection can get too dark. The lack of oversight of infections and travel, the lack of ventilators for the hospitals, the untruthful communication and lax restrictions. The time they had, that they wasted. Putting our healthcare professionals on the front lines, as if as innocent sacrificial lambs for the sin of arrogance.
It is an astounding experience to be in.
In April of last year I had an infant, a big messy house, three children at home all day and a thick layer of snow on the ground. One early morning, predawn, I was sitting under the blankets, nursing the baby in the dark, with my layers of socks and frozen windowpanes. A vision appeared: waking up in the morning with the baby, making our coffee, Joe and I sitting on the porch in the sun. Birds singing. Grass growing before our eyes. Though it seemed unbelievable, it was a totally attainable vision. A month or so later, as soon as it warmed up, we woke up earlier, crept downstairs more quietly, made our coffee and sat outside. Every day. For nearly the whole of the summer. And it was glorious.
I often wonder if we would have bothered to get out of bed, or ever discovered the beauty of that thirty minutes, had I not had that vision in the darker spot. It is the case that you can hold both dark and light projections in your hands at the same time.
I am savoring these words of Brian McLaren’s, quoted on the Center for Action and Contemplation’s blog yesterday:
Anxieties can gray the whole sky like cloud cover or descend on our whole horizon like fog. When we rename our anxieties, in a sense we distill them into requests. What covered the whole sky can now be contained in a couple of buckets. So when we’re suffering from anxiety, we can begin by simply holding the word help before God, letting that one word bring focus to the chaos of our racing thoughts. Once we feel that our mind has dropped out of the frantic zone and into a spirit of connection with God, we can let the general word help go and in its place hold more specific words that name what we need, thereby condensing the cloud of vague anxiety into a bucket of substantial request. So we might hold the word guidance before God. Or patience. Or courage. Or resilience. Or boundaries, mercy, compassion, determination, healing, calm, freedom, wisdom, or peace. . . .