- Kathleen Henderson Staudt
- I work as a teacher, poet and spiritual director at a number of institutions in the DC area. My teaching focuses in various ways on writing, poetry, Spirituality and Christian vocation and ministry - especially from the point of view of the laity. I also offer classes and retreats encouraging people to explore their inner lives, engage their creativity and reflect on their beliefs about God, vocation, and how we can discern and pursue new ways to transform our broken world. I enjoy speaking of faith in the secular academy as well as reminding those preparing for ministry in the Church that our primary purpose is to love and serve the world beyond the church's doors. I love helping people to grow in faith and to find their own voices, and I also love encouraging them to use their minds. I see no contradiction between these impulses, believing as I do that faith, reason and creativity work together.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Snowbound:Some Spiritual Lessons
(Also on episcopal cafe)
Except for a brief grocery run between storms, I was “snowbound” for nearly a week, from February 9-13, with the two huge storms falling on the DC area. It took 2 days for our suburban cul-de-sac to be plowed at all – and then the second blizzard came. Unlike many in the area we have had our power on the whole time, so we were not materially deprived, apart from cabin fever. It was just a long stretch of time at being at home, mostly it’s been an experience of just being “stopped.”
At first we celebrated this time as an “enforced Sabbath,” something that is welcome in the workaholic culture of the DC area, when the weather conditions and the slowness of the cleanup process simply force us to let go of whatever important things we were doing. And for a day or so, yes, it was a welcome “sabbath time.” But after that a more insidious inertia set in.
Indeed, I have been wondering whether an “enforced Sabbath” is kind of a contradiction in terms. Sabbath is supposed to be a regular spiritual practice, a part of our routine – a way that we simply let go of busy-ness to acknowledge that God is Lord of all of our time and work, and that our work is not our own, but God’s. It strikes me that perhaps a more regular practice of genuine Sabbath would have been a good preparation for the spiritual challenge this snowstorm posed for me. For what I felt most of the time was a deep restlessness, a sense of being unhooked from any reliable routine or pattern, and so an inability to settle to much of anything – even settling down to read a good book, as I’d longed to do, and had time to do, or to write, or pray, or do anything much more than responding to what came: answering email, gmail chatting, facebook, grading the occasional paper.
By the end of the week I was snowbound both outwardly and internally. Unmotivated. Stuck. It is a place in life I recognize, and perhaps it has left me with a useful image, a new spiritual metaphor to remember when I do not have control over the way forward, and the place I’m in seems crowded, enclosed, confused, with too many competing demands. Outwardly, I kept busy, apparently “doing things.” Since I work at home, the work was all there, looking at me, and I picked my way through it, in an unmotivated way. But any substantive or creative writing was just blocked. With the rhythm of days flattened out, I lost the internal rhythm of prayer, study, work and rest that would normally steady and settle me. The computer was too alluring – a way of staying connected with people, emails and facebook posts that make me feel needed, important, not buried at the end of a suburban cul de sac. My spouse was at home, also working, we broke for meals together, and I did find that losing myself in the creative art of cooking does help to redeem a snowy day -- but even that grew old after 5 days.
Inwardly, my response to this snowstorm and the break in our routine was beginning to feel more like the kind of “stopping” of life that comes with illness, or grieving, or other unexpected interruptions. Times when we are “brought up short” – as theologian Richard Osmer puts it – where we come up against a break in our regular expectations of life and are not sure what to make of it. Sometimes such times turn out to be places of grace- but they sure don't feel that way when we're in them!
Then there was the shoveling out: my way to freedom, once the roads were clear, thwarted by my own bad choices: I had parked the car in the driveway after the first storm, to save the effort of shoveling our whole driveway, which slopes uphill from the garage. But the second snowstorm buried the car under a snowdrift – so the work of digging it out doubled. In the end I needed to dig the whole driveway, roll the car back into the garage, and begin again. No work saved, hard to see how long it would take me – and no help in sight. The neighbor who had helped me after the first storm was tapped out; my spouse was laid up with bronchitis. My car would be free only when I could get it out.
The task itself was clear enough, but discouraging. I would dig away at the snow but there was nowhere to go with it – the piles blew back at me, and though I’m in decent shape it grew tiring, heaving each shovelful to the top of the growing snowpiles along the driveway. Gradually I’d begin to see patches of pavement, mingled with ice -- but I’d think: “this will take hours – maybe won’t be done by dark today. I don’t know how long my strength will last.” All I could do was to keep filling the shovels full, piling snow high on the already deeply covered lawn behind me. An unrewarding task for long stretches, but obviously the only way out.
Gradually, shovelful by shovelful, I began to break through to a way out.. It was fine as long as I could focus on the single task: lifting the next shovelful, moving the snow, pausing to admire the brilliant sky and the sparkling icicles around me. When I started to obsess about how long it would be before I was dug out, and whether it would be today or tomorrow, discouragement quickly overwhelmed.. There was no way of knowing how soon my efforts would pay off. I simply had to keep on. Knowing it would be done eventually. Not knowing when, or how long I could last, this shift, before taking a break.
But I can't say I did it all myself Help came, finally, when I was about ready to admit defeat for the day – from someone with fresh arms and a fresh approach. He moved the last few shovelfuls and backed the car out for me, up and over the icy hill, and finally, I was free.
I’m appreciating some spiritual insights from this experience of being snowbound. It may be reaching a bit, but the metaphor works for me, I shall try to remember all of this next time I am aware of being spiritually “snowbound” – in that place of interior “stuckness” that is all too familiar for me.