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“For Everything There Is A Season….”

June is one of my favorite months. Despite that in Erie, PA—where I am from—it is often a rainy, muddy month, it is also a time of important milestones. As a child, June meant the end of the school year. As an adult, it’s become the month of gay pride parades and festivals. I’ve also come to know about the importance of Juneteenth in the life of our nation and especially among African Americans. In the life of my denomination, our annual regional gathering—the synod assembly—is held each June. It’s the month that includes Flag Day and Fathers’ Day. It’s a time of outdoor celebrations, parties and picnics. At least that is what June meant to me until this year.

The pandemic has rendered this June unlike any other I recall. There are no pride parades this year. No graduation ceremonies. The synod assembly has been cancelled. Retreats and residencies have moved online. Restaurants with patios are reopening, but the tables are carefully spaced six feet apart. It’s tentative and careful, anxious and tepid. And it’s angry. Acts of police brutality have refocused the national consciousness on America’s original sin—white supremacy. What this June has lacked in revelry, it has made up for in holy rage at unacceptable racist behavior and systems. This June has not lagged in zeal.

The regular rhythms and expectations of time have been scrambled by the pandemic. Since I began my job as Director of Operations at Shalem in mid-May, I’ve been part of many virtual Shalem meetings. And in those different Zoom gatherings, I’ve noticed others express a sense that time feels different. The absence of activity and appointments, commutes and commitments have made days and weeks stretch out longer than before. Since the pandemic began, I’ve noticed how I have more time to clean up my apartment, catch up on reading, and reconnect with people with whom I’ve lost touch. Mostly though, I’ve noticed how I have more time with myself, my thoughts, and my ongoing conversation with the Beloved. In this spaciousness, I’ve been asking, “What is God showing me?” I’ve carried an acorn, like Julian of Norwich, in my pocket to remind me of this question. And I wonder too, what is God showing all of us in this time?

And then I saw the nearly nine-minute video of George Floyd’s last moments alive. I saw and felt the tear gas from police on 16th Street behind the White House, a block that has since been renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza. And I saw the President raise a Bible for a photo-op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church after federal police forcibly removed peaceful protesters. There have been times in my life where God whispers, nudges, or lightly suggests. In fact, that’s how it is most of the time. But this June isn’t like most Junes. This is one of those times when the Holy lays it out before me quite directly, unambiguously, even forcefully. I heard it in a young black man’s voice on one of the more tense nights of the recent protests. He shouted toward me and some other white people, “White people get up to the front! The police won’t shoot you!” That said it all.

The COVID-19 pandemic stopped so much of our regular daily life, but it didn’t stop white supremacy. And with more time on our hands, we have more time to protest (with masks on!). But even more than joining a protest, we white people have the time and space to deepen our understanding of our privilege and our complicity in the systems and structures that harm and all too often kill people of color. Resisting and overturning white supremacy is lifelong work. It’s rooted in answering Jesus’ call to love all of our neighbors and to challenge injustice.

Further, I’m convinced that the spiritual freedom I long for as a contemplative is tied to my ongoing practice to disentangle myself from white supremacy—a practice that, just like all spiritual practices, will never be finished. My inner work involves learning and unlearning, lamenting and repenting, reflecting and praying. I’ve had to question my assumptions, notice my discomfort, and resist that all too present need to get the right answer and develop the right plan of action. I’ve had my courage put to the test to go to the front of a tense protest, to call out my friends and family on their harmful behavior and thinking. And thank God, I’ve had prayerful companions to hold me accountable on this journey.

We contemplatives are well positioned, I believe, to receive what the Holy is showing us in this time because we understand the slow, steady work of inner transformation. And yet I am mindful that when it comes to the racial equity work we must do on ourselves and our institutions there are no easy answers, formulas to follow, and there are many pitfalls. Above all, there are no shortcuts. God is always loving us, showing us, inviting us. I imagine the Holy has beckoned me, you, all of us down this road toward deeper spiritual connection and freedom many times. Maybe we stopped, turned around or lost our way because it felt too painful, too slow, too wearisome. Maybe we thought we “arrived.” But this June has been different from any other. And I pray that my…your…our response to it will be different as well.

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