As we approach one year of the coronavirus pandemic, what I am craving is silence.
The world is full of sound. I wake up and listen to NPR. The remote school day begins for my children. At church, the happy bustle of community has been replaced the creaks and echoes of an empty building. At night our family watches TV or plays games with friends online. Sometimes we clear the table after dinner to play a board game. Some of these noises I wouldn’t give up for the world; others I long for, such as the sound of our choir singing on a Sunday morning. Yet underneath all these sounds is a silence that beckons to me.
For Lent I have committed to driving in silence when I’m alone in the car. It’s usually just me. It’s a chance to be alone with the world and my thoughts, and to hear what my heart tells me when I stop to listen.
I don’t always welcome what I hear. I hear the agony of 500,000 people dead of the coronavirus in our country. 500,000 holes in families; half a million people who were here a year ago and are now gone. Too many of them died alone. The vaccine is bringing us hope (and terrible frustration as people try to navigate the systems to get an appointment), but there is real mourning and sorrow. We are people going home from the war. Not all of our siblings in arms made it.
In the silence I also hear my own sorrow over our other losses in the past year. I feel sorrow for our children whose school and social lives have been so disrupted. I feel sorrow for those who live alone and don’t feel safe seeing friends and family. There’s sorrow for essential workers who have been most exposed to COVID and aren’t yet eligible for the vaccine. There’s worry for those who were laid off and still aren’t back to work. I feel anger and a yearning for justice for Black and Brown Americans still struggling for equal treatment under the law. There’s deep sorrow, frustration and anger about the conspiracy theories and lies which prey on people seeking more power over their lives.
So of course when I’m observing my new Lenten practice and driving in silence, I don’t always welcome the thoughts and feelings I find there. I often find myself reaching for the radio dial or the play button on my phone. That’s the benefit of a spiritual practice. My practice reminds me: don’t run away from these feelings. Open your heart. This has been a hard year. It is fitting to feel the hardship.
It is fitting, too, that in the silence we hear the voice of possibility and hope. I hear the voice of my own creativity, which I experience as my connection to the creator God. I hear whispers, I work through thoughts and feelings, and I am inspired by where to go next in my work. I remember you, First Unitarians, and hope for the days when we can see each other in-person again. In the silence, our own creative powers can blossom and grow.
I know there are those among you who are struggling in the silence of solitude. If silence can be a gift for you, I invite you into it this Lent. What voice do you hear in the quiet, as your heart opens?