Greetings, fellow sojourners! I am grateful for your distanced companionship through this difficult time. Today I’d like to pass along a brief meditation and suggestions for writing or reflection that I wrote for Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality during Holy Week. May it remind you of the vitality of your relationships regardless of your faith tradition.
“Solitude does not necessarily mean living apart from others; rather, it means never living apart from one’s self. It is not about the absence of other people—it is about being fully present to ourselves, whether or not we are with others. Community does not necessarily mean living face-to-face with others; rather, it means never losing the awareness that we are connected to each other. It is not about the presence of other people—it is about being fully open to the reality of relationship, whether or not we are alone.” -Parker Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness
Shortly after a fire destroyed all of my belongings, my spiritual director called. “What do you miss most?” she asked me, then patiently listened to the litany: the afghan my grandmother knit for my thirteenth birthday, irreplaceable photos, my sister’s elegant paper cuttings, the purple and blue quilt my mother stitched, hundreds of books, and journals—twenty years of journals. “You know, Elizabeth,” she said when I was done, “I believe you already contain everything that you need to remember.”
At the time her words seemed callous; my loss was real, my grief wrenching. Over time, though, I’ve realized their truth. The objects we’ve lost, the places we’ve left, the people we can no longer visit: We contain them. They reside in memory and in our very cells. Those relationships continue. Sometimes I wonder whether their invisible, intangible, ongoing life is even more real than what we presume to be reality.
Today, as we traverse Holy Week and endure a sustained period of separation and crisis, I invite you to attend to memories as portals for relationship. This morning I read the passage from Mark where Jesus talked with the disciples about what was to come: He would suffer, be rejected, and killed. Peter and the others couldn’t bear the thought of losing their beloved teacher. But Jesus entered the week with deep trust in the continuity of relationships despite separation, and the continuity of life despite death. I hope the following writing prompts help you find this truth within your own story.
Write three memories. These exercises can be done in as little as ten minutes each. Write freely, as a form of exploration and listening, without concern for what others might think.
- Consider a beloved who has died, who nonetheless has been present to you since. When and how have you experienced their presence? Choose one moment. Describe the scene, both what happened externally and what you sensed internally.
- Who do you consider to be your wisdom teacher? Perhaps this is someone you know, perhaps they’re a saint or holy person, perhaps you’ve only read this person’s books. Write down their name. Then think of a moment when you were not physically together, when this person was nonetheless present to you, guiding your thoughts or comforting you or urging you forward. Describe that moment. Be sure to use your senses, attending to both external and internal movements.
- Who do you dearly miss today because of the need to remain socially distant? Describe that person in detail, including their beloved attributes as well as shortcomings. Then reflect on some of the ways this person is present to you, within you, regardless. Perhaps you share a gesture, sense of humor, love of an activity, curiosity, or failing. How, other than through communicating, are you in relationship with them?
Meditation from Merrit Malloy’s poem, “Epitaph”:
Love doesn’t die,
So, when all that’s left of me
give me away.