By Anna Blaedel
“Having tasted beauty at the heart of the world, we hunger for more,” wrote Nobel physicist Frank Wilczek.
I heard these words of poetic truth while shoveling, after a storm covered everything in my little corner of the world with a thick layer of snow. I was savoring the beauty, even though the work of scooping and clearing had me sweating through the cold, my muscles aching. The beautiful hush. The morning light, refracting through light snow, still falling. The tracks left by deer, and other creatures. The anticipation of scooping up a bowl-full and drizzling it with maple syrup, a snow day treat from my childhood that I had just been sharing with my niece, who excitedly FaceTimed me to share her delight upon being introduced to this pleasure.
Someone, I discovered, some neighbor, had cleared one of the sidewalks of our corner lot. Their care eased my labor. As I wondered who it was, I was struck by the truth that I have enough caring neighbors--neighbors who make a regular practice of care--in close proximity that I don’t even know who to thank. That simple, gorgeous abundance had me in tears.
“These are the times,” Grace Lee Boggs taught us, “to grow our souls.” She was so practiced in the art of transformation; she was such a practitioner of the art of transformation.
I confess, I am struggling to reimagine practices of transformation when I can only ask, “How are you, really?” over zoom, or text, or occasionally, with neighbors, masked and outside and 12 feet away. I long to reach out my arms. Connect face to face, eye to eye. Put water on for tea. Light a candle. Pull up a chair. Put food on the table. Settle in. Lean in. And linger, together. In silence. In music. In shared presence.
And, of course, I know I’m not alone in this, and I feel the exhaustion of even naming this loss, this desire, once so ordinary, now so suddenly and extraordinarily out of reach. We are, collectively and unequally, losing so much. We are, collectively and unequally, amassing such an accumulation of unmet wants and needs; the energies of isolation, grief, fear, and rage swirling. We are, collectively and unequally, holding so much.
Poet Amanda Gorman, known now far and wide for bringing poetic truth and prophetic beauty to the Inauguration, offers a vision and extends an invitation: “Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped. That even as we tired, we tried.” This poet, I learned, has a mantra she repeats prior to each poetry reading she gives: “I am the daughter of Black writers, who are descended from Freedom Fighters, who broke the chains, who changed the world. They call me.” They called her, and she calls us. Even as we grieve, may we grow. Even as we hurt, may we hope. Even as we tired, may we try.
Because: “We are not just our pains, not just our fears,” reminds adrienne maree brown. “We are entire systems wired for pleasure, and we can learn how to say yes from the inside out.”
What is drawing a Yes, from deep inside you? A Yes, yes, even now.
Alfred North Whitehead, perhaps my favorite deadwhiteguyphilosopher, once called God “the tender care that nothing be lost.” The tender care that nothing be lost. This tender care does not, of course, mean that nothing is lost. But God is the tender care that sustains us through loss. God is the tender care that accompanies us in the depths of grieving and growing, hurting and hoping, tiring and trying, in and through it all.
Describing what she calls “the spiritual work of abolition,” adrienne maree brown writes, ”The fractal nature of our sacred design teaches us that our smallest choices today will become our next norms...We must work hard at getting abolitionist practice functional at a small scale, so that large-scale abolition and transformative justice are more visible, rootable, possible.”
Not self care, no. Or, rather, not only self care. Because no self is separable from the multitude of our relations, and we are made for murmurations, and our lives and legacies and futures are bound up together, even now, even now. So, yes, to precious you caring for precious you. But always, too, extending care beyond, and receiving care from beyond. Yes, to baths. And lighting candles. And rubbing oil into your skin. And putting on an album you love and having an impromptu dance party or stretching out on the floor and letting the movement of notes and chords coax a new rhythm in you. Yes, to rest. And making art. And cooking good food. And writing letters. And slowing down. And laughing, whenever it is possible. Yes, to walking outside, and turning your face to the sun. Yes, to noticing beauty wherever beauty can be found. Yes, to carving time, finding time, creating time, for meditation, and prayer, and ritual. Yes, to sharing what we have. Yes, to shoveling beyond property lines. Yes, to dreaming and moving toward a world without property lines. Yes, to mutual aid, and mobilizing with and for those around you, so that we are building and creating and manifesting a world where all our needs are met with care.
As a survival practice.
A spiritual practice.
A queer practice.
An abolitionist practice.
A gospel practice.
A yes, from the inside out, to life.
We need so much.
We have given so much.
We have so much, yet, still, to offer.
Our creativity. Our imagination. Our art. Our breath. Our holy labor. Our bruised and broken open and beating hearts. Our gentleness. Our defiance. Our care.
Yes, to these small, daily, ordinary choices that pattern us holy, and beautiful, and alive, and free.
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Rev. Anna Blaedel is theologian-in-residence at enfleshed. They bring an attentiveness to the intersections of academic, activist, and ecclesial engagement. Anna nourishes students through campus ministry for the University of Iowa Wesley Center and is enrolled in a PhD program in Theological and Philosophical Studies at Drew University's Graduate Division.