by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM April 3, 2020
My choices during these days of social distancing and staying in place have offered some surprises. Besides holding in tender prayer the collective suffering of our world and praying intensely for our first responders, medical and support staff, the newly unemployed, the small business owners, those ill or dying from COVID-19 and those who love them, I’m one of the privileged few who are able to work from home and am using this time for retreat planning and writing assignments. I’ve not yet straightened out my sock drawer, entered into deep cleaning of my apartment, or downsized my expansive files—that, I suspect, will be coming—but I have just completed something I’ve been meaning to do for at least the past five years: planning my own wake service and funeral liturgy.
I’m not ill or overtaken by premonition. What I am at this moment is given to gratitude. To sit with and break open anew the riches of songs, poems, and Scripture that have given my life meaning is like writing a spiritual autobiography, a looking back and seeing my life as whole instead of lived piece by piece. My companion during this time is Carrie Newcomer’s question that will not let me go: “How do I find beauty and what is unbroken in a landscape that must always include broken things?”
For me, this time of planning is marked by empathy and a fresh understanding. I’ve sung each song aloud as it filters through my phone and sound system. I’ve savored every word of every poem that has nourished me—oh, they are so many!—feeling the words roll around in my mouth, tasting their sweetness, naming how they have let mystery in, how they have animated, inspired, consoled, and healed me. I’ve felt in my body why Mary Oliver calls these words “fires for the cold, ropes let down for the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.” I have been warmed, saved, and fed, and I am so in love, all over again.
The real gift of this time and this reflection has been the re-discovering of something that I already knew: that what I cherish most, what I will most keenly miss from this world that is so very dear to me, are not the big moments of my life, but the sweet and tender things we might describe as ordinary. The wrapping of a loved one’s arms around us. The wordless understanding between friends. The hush of dawn as we hold a steaming cup of coffee or tea and enter into prayerful stillness. The way we are startled, the way we sit up and take notice when music pours over us and shakes our soul. The scent of lavender or honeysuckle or mock orange wafting over us on any summer day. The awe that overcomes and silences us when we stand before a crimson sunset. The lullaby of waves gently breaking on shore. The list is endless.
In so many ways, this time has afforded me the chance to reflect on my own version of Linda Pastan’s poem, “The Almanac of Last Things”:
“From the almanac of last things
I choose the spider lily
for the grace of its brief
blossom, though I myself
but I choose The Song of Songs
because the flesh
of those pomegranates
all the frost of dogma.
I choose January with its chill
lessons of patience and despair–and
August, too sun-struck for lessons.
I choose a thimbleful of red wine
to make my heart race,
then another to help me
sleep. From the almanac
of last things I choose you,
as I have done before.
And I choose evening
because the light clinging
to the window
is at its most reflective
just as it is ready
to go out.”
My almanac of last thing is rich with delight and hope and profound gratefulness. Maybe that’s because, in our shared time of loss and pain and uncertainty, I still have to believe, with Louis Armstrong, what a wonderful world this is.
Skip the ad and take a moment to sit with his loving reminder here.
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Spend some moments naming some of the “last things” you cherish.
Savor these ordinary things and reflect on why they are precious to you.
Give thanks to the Holy One who has blessed your life with reasons to be grateful.
We continue to hold in tenderness and prayer all those suffering from the impact of COVID-19. As we continue to practice safe social distancing, we may be grieving our inability to celebrate Holy Week and Easter in person, but we can be consoled in knowing that there are no boundaries to our consciousness and our loving prayer. Please join me in breathing our intention to collectively bless our beautiful and broken world. May we all experience the fullness of new life this Easter and in the days to come.
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