Sacred Idleness

I’ve persisted with yin yoga for the past year. It just seems like I need it. I hold each pose for 3-5 minutes in stillness, letting gravity do the work. The odd thing is that even though I find the practice sustains me, actually energizes and challenges me, I remember when I did much more active styles and wonder if I’m being lazy or slacking off in some way. 

I also lament that I’m “doing nothing” almost anytime I just read, take a nap, watch a television show, or just stand at the kitchen window marvelling at the sky, whether it is vibrant oranges like it was this morning or cloud filled grey.  Now, I don’t imagine all of these things as equal, however, at the end of the day I might ask myself, what did I do today?  None of these indulgences will make the list.

My friend, who has a striking ocean and mountain view from her front balcony, told me recently that her husband would sit in stillness in their back yard with his face toward the sky basking in the light of the day with his eyes closed. “That kind of drove me crazy,” she confessed.  I knew him as a man of uncompromising principles.

A few days ago I came upon the term, “sacred idleness.”

Certainly work is not always required of a man. There is such a thing as a sacred idleness, the cultivation of which is now fearfully neglected. Abraham, seated in his tent door in the heat of the day, would be to the philosophers of the nineteenth century an object for uplifted hands and pointed fingers. They would see in him only the indolent Arab, whom nothing but the foolish fancy that he saw his Maker in the distance, could rouse to run.       …near the end of Wilfrid Cumbermede by George MacDonald published 1872

Maybe I was drawn to “work not always required” since I struggle to define my work now that I don’t receive a pay cheque. And yet, since we moved here, I couldn’t tell you what many people I’ve met “do,” as in how they spend their time during the workday.  So, I don’t have need to lead with what I do either.

I do work steadily on the constant chatter in my head: the conversations I could have, the response I might engage, and yes, the things I could do to be kinder, more productive, and manage my life (and sometimes other people’s as well). The idea of sacred idleness, for me, might be when these voices are let go and I pay attention to observations and sensing rather than the life I’m fabricating.

Last week, Mitch and I searched out a small inlet in Sydney by the Sea, an idyllic twenty-minute drive from our house.  It was a cold and misty November day and we didn’t find enough shore to walk along very far.  We did stand still and keep a steady eye on a quintet of bundled up paddle boarders buoyed along by the higher tide toward us. They emerged round a bend of land in the distance, obscured by the dusky afternoon light and subtle rain. It was joyous to see them persist and imagine that possibility, when I’m braver; even as one said, “I can’t feel my feet,” as her rubber boots stepped from her board into the clear water’s edge. 

This week, my friend Liz and I walked through Mystic Vale. Yes, that’s the name of a forested ravine on University of Victoria grounds, a Douglas fir ecosystem trail that lives up to the name.   I particularly noticed the myriad of mosses during this rainy season and Liz was an astute observer of the tiny mushrooms on fallen trees. That’s the thing, this kind of gentle vision, without the need to talk too much, idles the noisy, self-conscious me that started out that morning.

When we imagine ourselves as part of the sacredness of everything, when we sense the loving goodness that surrounds us, we experience another kind of seeing.  Richard Wagamese reminds that our eyes deceive us.  There is a spiritual vision that comes, he says, “when we shut off our minds and use our senses.  When we touch, taste, hear, see and intuit the world around us.”  

Sacred idleness.  I believe it is the light shining on a face and wonder in the dark shadows of the drenched forest. It is in my joy at watching those who aren’t reluctant to venture into the cold water.  All of this idling in honour of and in calm surrender to the moment.    Doing nothing?

Shifting Reality

It would be easier to review the day in lament for all my selfishness and failings but that’s not what I am to do…

That’s how I began my nightly ritual, a few days ago, because that is how I felt.  Perhaps because I’ve done this enough now, even when some of those times seemed like “lists” instead of conscious reconsideration, I knew that if I persevered things would change. 

I’ve been consistently doing some form of Daily Examen, as an end of the day practice, for almost a year.  Somehow, reviewing the day in gratitude shifts my perspective.

Looking at that day’s reflection that I began despairingly in my notebook, I see that I started my review with the end of the day.  That evening, scrolling through my options for TV viewing, a Walter Brueggemann sermon was on our YouTube line up. I watched. It was a good ending to ease me into a reluctant beginning.

You see, this isn’t a “list” of things I’m thankful for or a chronological reliving of my day.  For me, reviewing the day in the presence of God engenders a larger reality.  It is not a utopia but reality that calls me to pay attention and trust the unfolding.

It would be easier to review the day in lament for all my selfishness and failings but that’s not what I am to do. I’ll begin at the end of this day.

 I’ve dabbled in the brilliance of Walter Brueggemann and his faithfulness to both scholarship and story called me to a higher place

I am grateful for good food—lemon blueberry bread, chicken spaghetti and broccoli—I had for dinner that was comforting and tasty and filled me up.

Mitch- always grateful for his honouring me and his humble and brilliant spirit. Grateful for Margaret sending me a recipe they liked—a new way for us to connect. For exuberant Malachi and the joy he brings.  For Wade’s natural ability and intellect that keep him interested in life—for his insight and willingness to let go of some things.

I am grateful for the spider and web in the window, the circle of life before our eyes.  She is back or maybe never left.

I continued in gratitude for things that expand my heart and mind for good.  And I remembered why I endured to begin my review of this day in gratitude.

When I began this post, I thought more about the sermon I heard.  Brueggemann titled the sermon on Psalm 31, Continuing Through the ‘Disruptive Conjunction.’  (Now you see why I had to listen.) He explained that the Psalmist’s complaints are interrupted by the conjunction “but” bringing a “moment of reflection with a pause for another reality.”

Reviewing my day was also the ‘disruptive conjunction’ that moved me from my experience of being narrowly focused on myself and what I didn’t accomplish to re-situate my experience in the mystery and goodness of God. 

My times are in your hand; deliver me…  Psalm 31:15

Blue Heron being himself at Island View Beach, Saanich, BC

I am still awed when the words on the page unexpectedly answer or illuminate a question or thought I’ve been mulling over.  And it happened again.

I’ve been casually sampling some of Thomas Merton’s journal entriesThis day I decided to skip from February 10 and somehow landed on October 10, 1958, seventeen years after his arrival at the Trappist Monastery in Kentucky. 

After a morning of second-guessing my decisions or, more accurately, lack of deciding anything and feeling quite self-centered, this is what I read.

Finally I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already am. 

…For it is the unaccepted self that stands in my way.

Thomas Merton, October 10, 1958

A Year with Thomas Merton

I tend to lead with fear, so; maybe I’m still a little afraid of being myself.  I will admit it has been a challenge to figure out who that is sometimes. What if—okay, this is a different kind of “what if” – what if I just did whatever I had to do and accepted what I didn’t do? 

Maybe my highest ambition could also be to be who I am—instead of all the truly unaccepting self talk of wondering if what I did is right or helpful or kind and on and on.  Maybe that truly stands in the way of loving and being loved. 

And that would have been enough of a gift from God for one day.  Yet, there was more, as I serendipitously made my way through the next part of Isaiah 45.

Woe to you who strive with your Maker,

earthen vessels with the potter!

Does the clay say to the one who fashions it,

“What are you making?”

or “Your work has no handles”

…will you question me about my children?

In my evening review of my day in gratitude, I was grateful I didn’t respond to an email that didn’t deserve a response and that I didn’t know how to tactfully say what I wanted to say and I could let that go. I was grateful for a kindness when I thoughtfully changed my mind, I was grateful for an email of affirmation from my friend when I had just talked about myself instead of asking how she was doing in an earlier conversation. I was grateful for Mitch who does let me be myself.  I was grateful for the assurance of Merton’s own revelation and God’s blatant challenge from Isaiah.

Be who I am and pray for courage to accept the me God made.

Time After Time

I was reluctant to write today.  My resolve for being a witness through these pages waned. As I did my morning reading, I was unsure about what I represented as the sacred in my world.  And then when I picked up my computer, I remembered something that made sense for today, this Election Day in the United States.

Earlier this fall, I read The Return of Ansel Gibbs, one of the few books by Frederick Buechner I hadn’t read.  It was published in 1957 and like all Buechner’s writing, in my experience, the story affirms literary philosopher Mikkail Bakhtin’s thinking that the novel is never finished.  The dialogue is not bound to the original contextual meanings but is always being rewritten, so to speak, in our reading and in conversation with our own times.

In the novel, Ansel Gibbs is being appointed to a cabinet position by the President of the United States, subject to congressional approval, of course.  At this critical juncture, near the end of the tale, Ansel Gibbs’ lifelong friend and Anglican priest, Dr. Kuykendall remembered a moment when he addressed young seminarians. With trembling hands on a heavy leather Bible, he said,

If you tell me Christian commitment is a thing that has happened to you once and for all like some kind of spiritual plastic surgery, I say go to, go to, you’re either pulling the wool over your own eyes or trying to pull it over mine.  Every morning you should wake up in your beds and ask yourself: ‘Can I believe it all again today?’  No, better still, don’t ask it till after you’ve read The New York Times, till after you’ve studied that daily record of the world’s brokenness and corruption, which should always stand side by side with your Bible.  Then ask yourself if you can believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ again for that particular day.  If your answer’s always Yes, then you probably don’t know what believing means.  At least five times out of ten the answer should be No because the No is as important as the Yes, maybe even more so.  The No is what proves you’re a man in case you should ever doubt it.  And then if some morning the answer happens to be really Yes, it should be a Yes that’s choked with confession and tears and … great laughter.  Not a beatific smile, but the laughter of wonderful incredulity.

The Return of Ansel Gibbs, p. 303

I read that maybe there is no such thing as time.  Maybe, we only have this moment, with its own story.

Being a Witness

Don’t be afraid is a recurrent theme for me.  Isaiah knows that I need to hear that again.

Instead of copying a passage from chapter 44 in my notebook, I put together the parts that stood out to me in my meditative reading, a kind of found poem.

My servant, I have chosen

formed you and will help you.

I will pour out water, spirit, blessing

Do not fear, do not be afraid

You are witnesses.

Being a witness? I am being a witness to my life rather than all the fixing, managing, and what if-ing I tend to do.  To let things be.

I’ve been doing Daily Examine most evenings and it does make a difference to review my day in gratitude instead of lamenting what I did or didn’t do that day.  To be a witness to what is.  I’ve been here before. I am repurposing something that Cynthia Bourgeault wrote that seems inline with the kind of freedom that being a witness might bring.

…freedom that comes from being able to sit in the chaos of a disrupted habit – like an anthill that’s just been kicked in – and transform the pain into the razor’s edge of pure consciousness.

To do this, however, is an advanced spiritual skill.  It requires an ability to sit in the presence of powerful emotional currents—pain, grief, yearning, fear—and experience them as pure sensation rather than as part of the story we keep telling ourselves about who we are.

I am grateful for this blog where I am able to put things together.  So when I happened upon an old blog, I am grateful for a record of that witness.  In June 2018, I ended my blog with this intention that seems to fit today. 

Now to have the courage to take this lesson again and experience the surrender of letting be, with reverence, a respectful waiting, and a deep attentiveness to forces much greater than my own.

Gift

…gift is an empowerment, something that allows us to travel further on our way to highest possible expression of ourselves.  In this way, even difficulties are gifts…because they all have energy within them to teach us something vital about ourselves and the nature of our lives in this reality.

One Drum: Stories and Ceremonies for a Planet, Richard Wagamese

I will give you the treasures of darkness

 and riches hidden in secret places,

so that you may know that it is I, the Lord,

 the God of Israel, who call you by your name.      Isaiah 45:3

When I was walking the dog yesterday, a beautiful day here, my neighbour said, “We live in paradise!” Yes, I do, I thought. It is a gift.

I’ve been reading Isaiah and Richard Wagamese’s last book, One Drum, in the mornings. I find ideas do converge unexpectedly. What stood out to me as I read this chapter in Isaiah was this part about treasures in darkness and riches hidden in secret places. That seems to be especially true for most of us right now, if we linger. Whenever I’ve been most worried or unsure, some thing happens to open a possibility.

I don’t consider myself a structured person. And yet, for most of my adult life, I’ve spent some time, most days, reading in a way that helped me make sense of my life.  The Bible, memoir, novels, and even so-called children’s books are my “source material” that engenders the magic. Over and over it happens, a gift of reading bits and pieces that add up.

 When my children were young or when I had a more demanding job, I might only spend minutes in the morning reading this way, but the books were always near-by my morning chair or the quiet corner . Over the years the activity has stretched immeasurably.  There have also been days and weeks that I didn’t read with that openness.  However, the practice is always waiting for me.

 Often the gifts I receive get buried again in my journals. I used to only write down a scripture reference or sometimes a quote, keeping a sort of commonplace journal. I have a few old ones and I can simply look at the date and the reference or quote and remember something when I sat on the white couch in the sunny bedroom with large windows in 1986.  Now, with notebooks filled with words, I move on to the next day’s worries and forget the gift for a time.

So, I intend to write these things for some days in this blog as they emerge, to pay attention and to rest in the goodness.  To simply accept what I’ve been given and listen for my name.

Hearing Voices

I suppose I’m looking for hope.  Not that I don’t have any, it just gets misplaced at times. 

Since June, I’ve been envisaging my way through Isaiah and I finally made it through the first half of lamenting the people’s wrong doing to get to the reassuring parts of the story.  After prophets observe and “identify those parts of our world order that are contradictory to God,” there is the second part where prophets, again according to Walter Brueggemann,  “talk about the will and purpose that God has for the world that will indeed come to fruition even in circumstances that we can’t imagine.”  I often need to be reminded of the “even in circumstances that we can’t imagine” part.

In Isaiah 37:6, the prophet reminds King Hezekiah, “Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard.”  Like us, Hezekiah’s head was turned by the paralyzing rhetoric of his time from the Assyrians whose words and actions threatened to undermine the King’s trust in God. There is a fierce hope to the prophetic voice.

I, too, have been lost in the words I hear; in the paralyzing rhetoric of these times, and in the personal what-ifs and unless-es of the story I’m narrating about my life now. How do I reframe my experience to trust and not despair?

In recent months, I’ve encountered Julian of Norwich in conversations with friends and mentioned in books I’m reading, oddly even in two novels. Julian seems to be making a comeback.  She is stepping forward, perhaps, because she also lived through a pandemic (the Black Death) and spent more than 30 years in a sealed room attached to St. Julian’s Church in Norwich, England.  In August, I attended an online retreat to explore her teachings that folded into Isaiah’s message of pain and possibility.

Just in case you didn’t know, Julian was an English anchoress and Christian mystic who lived from 1343 to around 1416.  She is best known for writing about her revelations or showings after an illness that brought her near death around age 30.  Julian describes and reflects on these showings in her book, Revelations of Divine Love, believed to be one of the earliest works by an anchorite and the first English book written by a woman.  Julian seems to have a theological optimism and deep trust in the midst of all that was going on in her world.

My teacher in the online retreat, Anglican priest Matthew Wright, surprized me.  He began with his own sense of spiritual disconnection that was a reassuring connection to my own.  He recalled that  “the fear and disconnect brought on by the pandemic, the divisiveness and sense of incoherence heightened by the global political moment describe our experience, valid as it may be, but not reality, that is Reality with a capital R.”

Matthew reminded us not to mistake our experience of fear and confusion for the reality of love and trust calling to us. Julian’s teaching has urged me forward in that call to trust.  Just like Walter Brueggeman’s description of prophetic voices, Julian’s teaching named what “most do travail and tempest us” and offered wisdom into my everyday contemplative practice. 

What does most travail and tempt us?  Julian wrote that what we need to be most wary of is impatience and despair or mistrustful dread, the only two “sins” God shewed her in her revelations. She attributes this struggle to our “lack in knowing of Love… He [God] willeth that in all things we have our beholding and our enjoying in Love. And of this knowing we are most blind.”

Julian teaches that the highest form of prayer is the Goodness of God.  Chapter VI of Julian’s Revelation of Divine Love begins,

“This showing was made to learn our soul wisely to cleave to the Goodness of God… the Goodness of God is ever whole; and more near to us, … and that we be evermore cleaving to His Goodness.  For all things that the heart may think, this pleaseth most God, and soonest speedeth [the soul]. “

When I am trying to figure things out, even the mysteries of God’s work, it takes me farther away into my head and anxiousness.   I know that when I am quiet, reading, praying, and even walking the dog and attending to the goodness around me, I am able to let go of the sense of dread or uncertainty that creeps in at other times. Maybe “cleaving,” as Julian calls it, means doing those things that enable me to hold my experience in the shadow of God’s Goodness.  In centering prayer, I abide in that goodness where, as Julian says, God is the doer.

Matthew explained that Julian invites us to trust this gaze of Love that doesn’t judge us.  That “meaningless incoherence” we sometimes feel is from our side.  Julian teaches that the Goodness of God keeps us in all circumstances, in “woe as well as weal.” Love is the ground that holds both. No matter what the circumstance of my experience, I can trust that unfolding.

Matthew began the retreat with “the thick veils” of incoherence, fear, and confusion that is now, and in the last session he ended with Julian’s wisdom that God is at work in all circumstances. He reminded that if we only see this one sliver of time, then we can be lost in impatience and despair. Julian is  “is inviting us to really see and trust that what we experience in time is only the surface of reality” and that we are collectively unfolding eternally in God.

Note: Revelation of Divine Love is available free online pdf and audio in public domain.  Quotations from Matthew Wright will be audio files available from The Contemplative Society, Victoria, BC

“No Worries”

I want to leave my worry today.

That’s what I said to myself at the end of my morning yoga practice.  Rachel, my teacher, suggested that we might want to set an intention for our day or name something we want to leave. I wanted to leave my worry that woke me up that morning.

I use the idea of “worry” to cover a multitude of sins.  I woke up worrying…  I was so worried… what worries me… all the worrying… that worries me…

What I worry about is often that “skilfully wrought impression,” as author Carol Shields muses, that is a life.  What I worry about is wrapped around what I might do, or not do, for the sake of someone’s good opinion of me.

Even more derailing are my worries about what I imagine to be true and what matters about me.

When I’m almost asleep, I can be jolted out of sleep’s release.  When I awake at 2:00 a.m., I rehearse those conversations that matter in the dark.  Even after a full night’s sleep, I might awake to one perseverating premonition.

One day, I wrote that the panic or anxiousness or sadness that I feel is not a reaction to my usual worrying, but I’m not sure that is the truth.  Beneath the worry is my furtive desire to change, manage, and control people, situations, or circumstances that I cannot and are not mine to manage, change, or control.  My impulse is disguised as worry that helps and even cares for others. 

My own skilfully wrought impression?  The bringing together of what I fear? Or some of what I off-handedly reveal that sums up why I matter in my world?  (More co-opting of Carol Shield’s words.)

Jesus said, “Don’t worry, be grateful. Does it add anything to your life?” 

And Mary Oliver came to a similar conclusion and gave it up.

So today, I’m leaving my worry here and I will be ready to lay it down again… and again.

I Worried

by Mary Oliver

I worried a lot.  Will the

garden grow, will the rivers flow in the

 right direction, will the earth turn

as it was taught, and if not

how shall

I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will

I be forgiven,

can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing,

even the sparrows

can do it and I am, well,

hopeless.

In my eyesight fading or am I

just imagining it,

am I going to get rheumatism,

lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying

had come to nothing

and gave it up.  And took my

old body

and went out into the morning,

and sang.

Tethered in Place

Sometimes we don’t have a word or label for what we do, for what keeps us in place.

When we were moving a couple of years ago, when our loved home sold in one day and we moved to the rental, I sorted our belongings according to what we would need for a few months.  I didn’t actually know how long that would be since we didn’t know where we were going, yet. 

Then, when we knew we were coming here, across the country and into the next, we unpacked boxes and sorted our lives into what we would let go of and what we deemed worth keeping with us.  Once precious books, family furniture filled with memories, and artful diversions seemed too cumbersome to keep.  We tacitly lightened our load.

 My feet were on unsteady ground, shifting from one place and purpose to another.

I still feel tentative.  After being here for two years, pictures in protective wrap are leaning against the wall in the living room and the dining room table is cloistered in moving blankets against the basement wall.  I just rearranged the furniture, again.

I remember, I happened upon the verse from Deuteronomy in Frederick Buechner’s recollections in The Remarkable Ordinary.  All my moving pieces might be reimagined in the assurance of being held, as Buechner says, by “whatever there is that is holy to hold us.” 

There is none like God…

who rides through the heavens to your help,

…The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

Deuteronomy 33: 26-27 RSV

My true dwelling place wasn’t in that almost perfect house, or the providence of places that followed that year.  My dwelling place was able to hold me for a moment that was beyond time.  I repeated, was emboldened by, and rested in the words; the eternal God is my dwelling place, and underneath ARE the everlasting arms became my assurance that I belonged to God, not to a house, or town, or even a country.

In Isaiah, there is a verse that God will keep her in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on God.  A note in the bible I read says that Isaiah 26:3 is a Hebrew metaphor that calls up an image of a tent rope “stayed” or tied to a peg in the ground that secured the tent in the windy desert.

I am far from the desert, however, I know how that image, of being blown about and securely held, was engendered by my practice of repeating that scripture phrase from Deuteronomy.  Over and over, that image of God’s everlasting arms under my home anchored my mind and tethered my heart in peace.

That’s what we do in Lectio-Divina, extracting a word or phrase from sacred reading and living with that phrase for a time.  This time, for me, the verse has stayed for this long season of feeling uprooted yet somehow grounded. The truth “in my heart” keeps me tied to the One who is the place that settles me.

Troubling Bodies

You have to look hard to see where I hit the car. Maybe, I’m just saying that to justify what happened.

The car, a stylish white SUV, sits in front of the house across the street from my house.  Rarely does it move, even last winter before the pandemic restrictions began. I don’t know who owns the vehicle; the house has 3 units and I don’t often see the occupants.

I can’t even remember what month it happened, maybe early November.  I know it was raining and kind of dark that morning.  The daylight is markedly shorter in the winter.  Now the dog gets us up around 5:00 am and I go to bed around 10:00 pm, all in the light. 

I have a back up camera on my car. I suppose I either didn’t use it or it was hazy with the wetness and dim light. I was on my way to yoga and had just enough time to make it; parking places are scarce on most mornings.

In that moment, I forgot about that white car that is always there. I was startled by the thud. I pulled forward and stopped.  Could I have actually hit something? 

I eased out of the car, leaving my door ajar. Usually, cars only travel one-way on the street where I live.  Looking closely enough, I thought, I saw no visible damage to the parked car or my own.  Just a slight bump, I reasoned.  So, on I went.

Winter days are mostly cloudy and rainy, yet, I watched the parked car in the dim light for days.  It didn’t move.  I did ask Mitch to take a look; I still had a feeling the impact was more than a gentle tap.  “There is a dent above the parking light,” he matter of factly reported.

Late November, I remember. After a ten-day trip to California, I renewed my daily watch out the front window.  My eyes fixed on the front bumper of that parked reminder each time I pulled out of my own driveway. I saw clearly the imperceptible indention, glaring above the parking light. 

A, B, and C: one letter on each of the three doors.  The tenants of B drive a stylish red mustang. Door C must be in back.  There is a compact grey vehicle in the driveway beside the red one and an older van on the other side of the house.  So who owns the white SUV?  Door B seems most likely.   

A few weeks before Christmas, a couple with suitcases emerged from door B.  It was about 5:30 a.m. and they were picked up and whisked away, I’m guessing to the airport. Even the red mustang was gone for the holidays. The white car stayed in its place until January 6, when Mitch and I left for another trip to visit our daughter this time.

In the June 9, 2020, episode of podcast On Being, in the midst of new conversations about race reignited by George Floyd’s murder, the host, Krista Tippett, opened my mind to embodied racism; a visceral fear that is obscured by rational minds.  She noted that she was born in 1960 and that it seems like much progress occurred over the years, that laws were passed (gender and race) that were, in a way, revolutionary. Except, we changed the laws but we didn’t change ourselves. 

“All of us carry the history and traumas behind everything we condense in the word race in our bodies… it was in my body, too,” she declared.

You see, I didn’t tell you that part.  I was afraid to just knock on Door B and ask if they knew who owned the white SUV.   “They” don’t look like me. I’ve never had a conversation or even acknowledged anyone who lives at the house. And yes, to absolve myself, I can say that I have friends here, close friends, who came from China and South Korea.  Why was I so reluctant to approach the possible owner of that car to make things right? 

What in me triggered my fear? That is what is so unsettling. I made assumptions in the moment that are unfounded. Did I think “they” wouldn’t understand me?  So, I might speak more loudly or slowly without even knowing their command of a first or second or third language.  If I’d hit my next-door neighbour’s car, I might have been humiliated to admit my carelessness, but would I be afraid to tell her since she is white and about the same age as me?

You see, I am an immigrant here, but I am white, and I mostly feel like I belong. I don’t know anything about my neighbours who live in that grey house.  I let my visceral reaction to their race rule my response; a hidden embodied fear of the stranger, more dangerous, I know.

A few years older than Krista Tippett, I am formed by a colourless Midwestern growing up that I thought I’d left behind.  That’s the disquieting part; how does my body catch up?  Being uncomfortable in that body is maybe a meagre beginning.

This week as I was looking over an absentee ballot for the Federal Election in the States, I noticed again.  As I searched for more information about the candidates from afar, I was struck with my embodied response to the faces I encountered.  What difference did it make that I was able to see the face of the candidate? 

What difference did it make to know gender identity and skin colour and all those defining “differences”—the family of origin, education, interests and even grooming? I was acutely aware of my hidden proclivities.  I looked at the white male with a traditional family as being more “electable” than the woman of colour who was single, when both had similar policy agendas. Being aware hopefully moved me toward more courageous decisions.

How do I as a white (insert plenty of other descriptors here) change myself on a deeper level?  When I pass the homeless man who sits everyday on the bench outside our church or see my neighbours in their yard or ponder my vote, how do I use that uncomfortable place to catch up to what my mind thinks it knows?

For 3 winter months, I watched to see who drove that car.  On a cold January day, I went out to get in my car and there she was, getting into her car.  I did not hesitate. 

I hurried over to the stylish white SUV, just as the driver shut her door.  As she rolled down her window, I began my confession.  She got out to look at the front of her car.  “Don’t worry about it,” she quietly affirmed as she waved off my amends.

I still don’t know exactly who lives in unit B. I noticed an older man and a young woman playing badminton in the yard.  I noticed a middle aged woman sitting once in the window late at night.  And yesterday, I saw her, the young woman who drives the white SUV taking in a congratulatory yard sign.  I wish I knew what she is celebrating.