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Opinion: Finding the deeper truth of these days
04152020 letter
A lakeside path offers space for refection. Photo courtesy Stuart Higginbotham.

Each day, before we begin our video calls, online classes and emails, my family tries to take a walk around the small lake in our neighborhood. 

These walks help me ground myself before the events of any given day unfold, and they also give me space to ponder what is being stirred up in my soul. This month has stretched my soul in many ways, and I trust that the discomfort is making me more flexible and open to the Spirit’s movement. 

Last week, as we were walking, we looked ahead and realized we were approaching another couple on their walk. We had often passed others, but I was paying attention this time. When we got close, both families silently and gently took a step away from one another, to give each other space. We spoke, smiled, wished each other a good day and continued walking. 

Something was stirred in me with that encounter, a recognition that, while the physical distancing has been rooted in anxiety and even fear about the virus spreading, there is also something deeply respectful about the act of giving each other space to breathe and grow. The subtle steps to the side felt like a way to honor the dignity of the other family. While we cannot control the circumstances of the pandemic, we can consciously engage with each other in ways that honor our common humanity. 

This virus, these circumstances, are not teaching us a new lesson; rather, it is reminding us of a very ancient truth — perhaps the oldest and most important truth of our human existence. We are reminded that we are united, one to another, in an interdependent human family. It is easy to forget this truth, and we so often slide into patterns of greed and arrogance, power and control. Just as these days are giving rise to enormous moments of compassion, they also call us to pay attention to our collective shadow, which is often on display. 

One of my teachers, Father Thomas Keating, a Catholic Trappist monk, once said, “The greatest thing that separates us from God is the thought that we are separate from God.” 

I would add that this truth means, then, that the greatest thing that separates us from each other is the thought that we are separate from each other. This is the deep spiritual truth that I am trying to ground myself in these days.

Our practice of prayer calls us to ask, “What is our intention?” What claim lies at the heart of our approach to God and one another? Much in our culture has been focused on a sense of hyper-individualism and consumption, and now our collective soul is being stretched. 

My prayer is that we will cultivate an intentional practice of community that strengthens the bonds between us and rejects the impulses to divide us apart and neglect the deeper reality of our lives: that we are all held together in God’s loving embrace.

Stuart Higginbotham 

Rector of Grace Episcopal Church, Gainesville

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