After a long weekend at home, I’ve returned to the cabin up north for the second half of my stay/exile/retreat/quarantine. It was good to be back in St. Paul. I voted (have you?), saw family and friends, did laundry, and readied the gardens for winter.
I arrived at the cabin yesterday, just ahead of an on-again, off-again rain. Everything inside the cabin was as I’d left it. But outside, things had changed. The loons have been replaced, it seems, by a flock of geese, honking as they fly low across the water. The ash outside my window, whose leaves were yellow when I left, is stripped bare. The Paul Bunyan Trail is paved with pine needles, acorns, and splashes of aspen, maple, and oak leaves.
Even the lake seems different. The reed bed where I caught bass last week has dulled and begun to die. The surface of the water is restless. And the sky is bruised and heavy.
We live in dark, apocalyptic times. We know how much things have changed.
Before Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s family could absorb her death, there were those who were eager to announce her replacement—as if that were even possible.
For those of us who felt gut-punched by the outcome of the 2016 election, we recognize that same feeling inside, bracing ourselves for the awful possibility that we might be hit again.
More than six months have passed since America was caught up in a pandemic and still there is no mandate or collective will that would tame the virus.
Some days it’s all too much. We can’t stop talking about the chaos around us but then are spent by our own words.
I read about the Desert Mothers and Desert Fathers this morning in Richard Rohr’s daily meditation [https://cac.org/freedom-in-the-desert-2020-09-29/]. This group of ascetics arose when Christianity became the established religion of the Roman Empire. Thomas Merton describes their movement:
“Society—which meant pagan society, limited by the horizons and prospects of life in this world—was regarded by [these desert people] as a shipwreck from which each single individual had to swim for their life . . . These were people who believed that to let oneself drift along, passively accepting the tenets and values of what they knew as society, was purely and simply a disaster.”
Only outside the mainstream did desert people search for wholeness. They called this process of moving toward inner freedom detachment.
I’m not an ascetic (though I’m getting by on only three pair of shoes), but I’m grateful to be here again, detaching. I recognize my need to abandon, even for a little while, the shipwreck our country feels like, before I myself am ruined.
My vote is cast, the interlude is over; let the second act begin.