By Rev. Anna Blaedel
A Place for Shelter and Shadow
By Pádraig Ó Tuama
We know that sometimes we are alone, and sometimes we are in community.
Sometimes we are in shadow, and sometimes we are surrounded by shelter.
Sometimes we feel like exiles–in our land, in our languages and in our bodies. And sometimes we feel surrounded by welcome.
As we seek to be human together, may we share the things that do not fade: generosity, truth telling, silence, respect and love.
And may the power we share be for the good of all. We honor God, the source of this rich life. And we honor each other, story-full and lovely.
Whether in our shadow or in our shelter, may we live well and fully with each other. Amen.
Pádraig Ó Tuama is drawing on the Irish saying, “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.”
I was preparing to write a love letter of sorts to my neighbors, a reflection on neighborliness; then, I was confronted with the messier realities of sharing time and space. “Neighborliness is nonspatial; it is qualitative,” wrote Howard Thurman. This feels like a time to deepen our practices of neighborliness. What do your neighbors need? What do you need from your neighbors?
A neighbor, the owner of a small local restaurant known for the best hummus around, now closed, recently left a pint of precious, delicious hummus on my porch. On the same day, another neighbor, part of my ecclesia, left a quart of loose leaf peppermint tea. I left homemade pretzels–enough for each of them, spouses, and kids—in return. How different this exchange feels, enacting a more generous economy of nourishment and care.
Another neighbor and I recently shared deeply personal losses that we had not yet spoken nor born witness to together, our bodies carving intimate space from further than 10 feet apart. We had noticed that daily patterns had perhaps seemed altered, and wondered how to ask if all was well, and had not known how to report these life-rupturing events into the normal rhythms of greeting in passing. Time and space are bent, now. But no more, really, than is possible always and everywhere when we bend to meet needs and extend care.
And then, more shadow than shelter, another neighbor had a small mid-week garage party, booming music ricocheting late into the night. After a number of hours, after midnight had come and gone, we pulled on our clothes and walked into the night to ask them to please lower the volume. Calling the cops—as we were socialized to do—would have been easier. But it also defers response-ability, often with harmful, even deadly, consequences. This time neighborly care took more effort, and I was more in touch with self-righteous grumpiness than tenderness. But here, too, are neighbors, with competing needs, trying to live well and fully with each other. Perhaps care is most vital when it is messy; loving kindness is not just a feeling, it is a commitment, and practiced action. Life affords us ample opportunity to practice. And Jesus had plenty to say about who our neighbors are (hint: everyone in need) and also about the care, generosity, and justice each and all deserve.
On one of this week’s countless zoom calls, a dear wise one spoke of this as a time of “shifting signifiers of care.” He was noting how, on early morning walks through strangely empty city streets, people expressed care by moving away from each other, covering our faces so smiles are barely recognizable, keeping distance to honor connection. Another dear wise one spoke of the trees visible outside the window offering the backdrop for her laptop. “Trees are the company I have,” she said, with appreciation. We are finding company where and how we can. Another dear wise one noted her shift toward increasing unwillingness to defer to authority for justice or care. We are who we have, and there is so much we can do, no matter our title, or position. Another dear wise one reflected on leaning into creativity, and time, in ways that allow for deeper humanness.
On another zoom gathering, we watched a film about Grace Lee Boggs. “Another world is necessary. Another world is possible. Another world is happening,” she insisted. We are creating the world, shaping our collective life, in every moment and interaction. “The only way to survive,” she insisted, “is by taking care of one another, by recreating our relationships to one another.”
On another zoom call, I joined other spiritual leaders in listening to Roshi Joan Halifax speak about the grief of this time as a rite of passage. Like all rites of passage, she said, there are three interwoven phases. Separation—from each other, from beloveds, from community, from the patterns and rhythms that have structured, for better and worse, our daily living. Then, a threshold time. Thresholds are thin spaces, holy and unsettled. Thrash and thresh share the same root. We thrash about as everything “stable,” “certain,” “secure” is stripped away and we face the radical uncertainty that is more true than the structures of certainty we often cling to. She noted how threshold spaces invite us to become allies with not knowing. And, finally, slowly, in its own time, integration and return. This comes only after we have discerned what wisdom and insight we will bring from the threshold. What is the grief teaching us? In moments of rupture and crisis, new ways of being can emerge.
“As we seek to be human together, may we share the things that do not fade: generosity, truth telling, silence, respect and love.”
What new ways of being might we midwife into being?
What rhythms and patterns of care will give and nourish precarious, collective life?
What wisdoms are offered in the deep griefs of these ruptured, disrupted days?
What needs, longings, and capacities are being revealed?
It is in the shelter of each other, that we live. May it be so.