As for many, morning walks have been my lifeline and place of grounding during the Covid-19 pandemic, bringing me perspective and a sense of peace in the midst of a turbulent world. The natural beauty of the Duluth area offers me a glimpse of God—and, therefore, hope—every time I step out of my door.
Recently, on a particularly spectacular fall morning, I moved along my usual route, reveling in the warm sunshine, the brilliance of Lake Superior below me, and the glory of the oranges, reds, and yellows of the leaves that framed my view in every direction as I quietly walked and meditated.
As I rounded a bend in my journey, my deep reflecting was interrupted by sounds emanating from a pond that was hidden from my view by some thick trees and shrubs. The air was filled with the startlingly loud sounds of geese—a common experience at this time of year, but these geese were clearly agitated, almost shouting. I stepped up my pace, anxious to find out what was happening.
Once my view cleared the trees, I observed about two dozen geese in this pond that were separated into two distinct groups. One group appeared to have not a care in the world, basking in the luscious sun as they floated aimlessly in the deeper area of the pond. I marveled at their calm and felt myself drawn to their beauty and sense of tranquility. The second group of geese had been the ones making all the noise, looking quite overbearing and impatient as they flapped their wings and kept honking at the oblivious group. It was as if I could hear them shouting indignantly at the others…Come on! We have to get going south! Don’t you know what is happening? Winter is almost here! The objects of their disapproval and chastisement seemed unaffected, unconcerned, content to stay where they were, knowing winter was on its way but intentionally enjoying the last bit of sunshine and beauty in this moment.
I know I am not alone in saying that I have been dreading the onset of this winter. Gathering with loved ones and friends in the outdoors will cease for the most part, and indoor gatherings will be fraught with complicated safety protocols—or for those of us who are high risk, maybe not at all. It has been weighing heavily on my mind as the fall colors have intensified and now are waning. One thing I have been pondering as I have had to love my family members and dear friends from afar with infrequent, distanced visits, is that I cannot get away from my feelings—of fear, isolation, and even sometimes panic. There is nowhere to run: no blockbuster movie to see at the theater, no plays, no concerts, no crowded Fourth of July excitement on the river in downtown Minneapolis, no large family get-togethers, no attendance for me at a family funeral for a beloved aunt. With none of the usual diversions or meaningful events and the constant reminder that we are safer staying at home, there is only one place to go with my feelings. Within.
Stability. The Benedictine value of stability is not one that we hear about a lot, but it has increasingly come to mind for me as we have experienced—and continue to experience—the pandemic, racial unrest, increasing economic insecurity, and escalating climate events, all in less than a year. This value of stability encourages us to cultivate rootedness in our personal and shared lives, to know of and act upon our sense of shared mission. Reflecting on this value through the last seven months has helped me to stay with my feelings rather than running from them or feeding my anxiety with worry about the future. I have worked hard to sit with my feelings, exploring God’s presence and God’s movement in all of them—in the pain of my fear, uncertainty, and isolation, as well as in the beauty of Creation and the preciousness of the present moment. The group of loud, panic stricken geese were reacting for good reason, but somehow, I have learned to be more rooted, like the group of geese who were unruffled, captivated by the moment of sun and water and glorious sky, blissfully lost in the now. When I read the news each morning and feel my anxiety rising, I pause and bring to mind the blessing of those geese and the example they are for us all.
May you, too, know the serenity and blessing of the geese…