The Open

Smoke from raging wildfires is rising out West and making its way to the skies in the East. Hurricanes are finding their way onto Southern shores. Angry tears roll down the faces of black mothers and fathers remembering lost loved ones at the hands of a racist society. White people scramble to understand racial injustice; black and brown communities balk at such privileged ignorance. High density construction and transit rail lines stand against the city skyline like mausoleums to a bygone era where the words “COVID-19” and “social distancing” were hardly part of our daily parlance. Sports stadiums with their empty seats wait silently wondering when fans might return.

Many of us wake up facing another day of uncertainty trying to stay safe and yet connected.

Working parents find themselves at the end of the day shaking their heads after hours of trying to help their kid access classes on a computer screen and also trying to schedule their Zoom meeting with a client or co-worker. Others are living with the hard decision of how to care for elderly parents—bringing them groceries, offering rides, keeping in touch—while also trying to make sure they don’t accidentally infect their loved ones. Still others are trying to face long-term unemployment, calculating the best way to stay afloat through temporary work, while also grieving the loss of another loved one from COVID-19.

The rhythms of our lives have been upended.

Since the start of the pandemic, I tried to get back into a regular running routine given I now have “extra hours” in the day from no longer making a daily commute. Unfortunately, after just a few weeks, my right knee began to swell and be quite painful. I iced and rested it, but after a few months with little progress, I finally relented and went to my physical therapist, Sheena, for help.

As my knee slowly improved, Sheena gradually invited me to try to jog a bit. During one session, she had me actually get on the treadmill so that she could take a look at my running form. She encouraged me to consider changing how I placed my foot because the way I had been running was causing too much stress on my lower legs and leading to injury. The next thing we worked on was my cadence, or how frequently I place my foot on the ground. She opened up a digital metronome on her phone and invited me to match the beat. I started out running at about 120 beats per minute and eventually got up to 150 beats per minute. I stayed at the same pace, but just changed the frequency with which my feet hit the ground. Running to a new beat and with a new attention to where my foot falls will enable me to keep going without hurting myself. Changing the rhythm of my running will actually keep me from getting injured.

Much like my running regime, my community life is virtually (pun-intended) out of sync. Recently, I was with a prayer group, and we tried to pray the Lord’s Prayer together on Zoom resulting mostly in sporadic and fractured sounds reverberating through our computer speakers. As we know, despite appearing to be present in the same time and space, being with one another virtually actually means there is a nano-second of delay between us. Often this difference only becomes apparent when we try to speak or sing in unison. We are out of sync.

Just as I had to change my running rhythm to keep from getting injured, our community rhythms have had to adjust in order to stay connected. Thankfully, our ancestors in the contemplative tradition have great wisdom to offer us when it comes to staying connected to one another and the divine. They remind us that there is a place where we can meet one another and the divine beyond and before the words. This place is what Rilke calls “the Open” (das Offene).

The dogs and angels know about the Open. Its existence is not contingent on a before or an after. The Open is neither here nor there. It is impervious to my ego, unimpressed with my failures and successes.

The Open is an ever-present invitation to the heart. It bursts through the throngs of people shouting, “No Justice, No Peace,” remembering George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor.

To keep watch for the Open when so much is out of sync, I am noticing the ways I have shifted my rhythm:

I drink in the morning as I sip my cup of coffee.
I learn to knit a prayer shawl mindful of a friend who is hurting.
I watch the waves undulating across the Potomac River beneath the bright yellow glow of the city lights.
I sit with my spiritual mentors through a screen.
I feel the shivers moving through my body when I face my own white privilege and racism.
I breathe and hold the silence before me.

And each time I move before the Open, I hear my soul centering down. Each time, I hear my soul singing: “yes, yes, and yes.”

And the world feels just a bit more alive, a bit more thankful, a bit more in tune with the rhythm of the divine.

Time to put on my running shoes and get going.

This article is taken from Shalem’s FY20 Annual Report. You can view the entire report by clicking here.

December 12, 2020 by Jessica Smith
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