Within Reach

A rabbi in New Rochelle, New York, while quarantined and being treated for coronavirus, said, “We sometimes find ourselves victims of life’s fragility and tentativeness. This is one of those times. It can help us to reorient our ultimate goals in life. Contemplation is good for the soul.”

These are frightening times, in which uncertainty looms so large. Fear is driving us, quite literally, apart. For our health and safety, we must put barriers and distance between us. We must keep to ourselves, for the time being.

A few weeks ago, Jack and I were out and about in our new community, meeting neighbors, visiting the local coffee shop nearly every day, making new connections, hosting friends for dinner. After so many months of trying to move to California (feels odd to say and strange to write, but it’s true), we were ready to be out in the sunshine, making this unfamiliar and sometimes overwhelming place our home.

But now, we have turned inward. Two of our closest family members have suppressed immune systems, so we are taking this seriously. We have to be extra conscientious out of love.

When we are at home, we cook and eat our meals together, being more careful to how we are using our food and spices. While I stand in front of the sink, I am absorbed in the act of washing my hands, watching the soap lather and the water swish toward the drain. We rise earlier and sleep more soundly, everything now pulsing with a quieter rhythm. A rhythm renewed by attention. I am noticing the texture of life, through my hands.

The rabbi’s words have been echoing in my head, “Contemplation is good for the soul.” Solitude and simplicity are, too. In this strange space of unknowing, our life has become grounded by the simple things. Contemplation, meditation, and prayer can take many forms, and just as there is a season for every experience and every emotion, I feel there are seasons for different kinds of contemplative practice.

When life seems particularly bleak, I return to the work of Julian of Norwich, the English anchoress and mystic, who survived a terrible, life-threatening illness and saw her home ravaged by the Hundred Years’ War and the Black Death. Her wisdom is renowned, and her words forever cherished by Christian seekers: “All shall be well. All shall be well. And all manner of things shall be well.” Julian, however, perhaps more than any female mystic has taught me how rich contemplation can be. Her order outlines a Body Prayer, which I plan to use in my practice during this season of simplicity and introspection:

AWAIT (hands at waist, cupped up to receive): Await God’s presence, not as you expect, hope, or imagine, but just as it is in this moment.
ALLOW (reach up, hands open): Allow a sense of God’s presence (or not) to come and be what it is, without meeting your expectations.
ACCEPT (hands at heart, cupped towards body): Accept as a gift whatever comes or does not come. Accept that you are not in charge. Accept the infinity of God’s presence, whether or not you are aware.
ATTEND (hands outstretched, ready to be responsive): In this stance of openness, attend to the action(s) that God invites you to take.

I hope it might inspire you, too, to slow down, to pay attention, to soak in the beauty within your reach.