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“Keeping Quiet” by Pablo Neruda  

Now we will count to twelve

and we will all keep still

for once on the face of the earth,

let’s not speak in any language;

let’s stop for a second,

and not move our arms so much.

 

It would be an exotic moment

without rush, without engines;

we would all be together

in a sudden strangeness.

 

Fishermen in the cold sea

would not harm whales

and the man gathering salt

would not look at his hurt hands.

 

Those who prepare green wars,

wars with gas, wars with fire,

victories with no survivors,

would put on clean clothes

and walk about with their brothers

in the shade, doing nothing.

 

What I want should not be confused

with total inactivity.

Life is what it is about;

I want no truck with death.

 

If we were not so single-minded

about keeping our lives moving,

and for once could do nothing,

perhaps a huge silence

might interrupt this sadness

of never understanding ourselves

and of threatening ourselves with death.

Perhaps the earth can teach us

as when everything seems dead

and later proves to be alive.

 

Now I’ll count up to twelve

and you keep quiet and I will go.

 

“If we were not so single-minded about keeping our lives moving, and for once could do nothing, perhaps a huge silence might interrupt this sadness of never understanding ourselves and of threatening ourselves with death.”  

These words from the Chilean poet (and Nobel laureate) Pablo Neruda have struck me these last few days.  I confess I am often “single-minded about keeping my life moving” and if there is one reality that is permeating all of our social distancing these days it is this: whatever we might’ve done to keep our lives moving has been unexpectedly altered.   I was speaking with a friend this weekend about how we might cope with this unknown season – how to care for our young children (who may have to be home schooled in just a week’s time), how to manage our work (with the Church building closed and visitations deemed risky) – all of which I trust will be fine in time.  But the deeper concern that hits me deeper than all this is for the first time in a while I am faced with lacking a clear horizon of expectation – of something to look forward to.

  I say this by way of confession.  For the Christian life is a longing after fullness of life with God – something we get little sips and tastes of here and now, something we see, in fits and starts through a glass darkly, but which ultimately will be revealed in our promised life beyond the grave.  And yet we cannot very well live on this ultimate hope all on its own.   And so we each begin to construct a life and make our plans, and thus we build proximate hopes.  I had hoped my ordination would be a great success next weekend!  I had hoped for some deepening of my vocation as a priest working alongside Lon in the coming weeks and months!  I had hoped to take my kids on some adventures later this Spring!   And, as of the time of writing, all of those hopes have been cast aside – at least for now.  Pried from my hands of control to rest, once again, in the grip of a future I cannot create on my own.  Sound familiar?   

What then is the invitation for me in this circumstance?   Neruda suggests that in keeping still, in not speaking, in pausing just to observe ourselves and the earth we call home, we will discover something essential about ourselves that we might otherwise miss.  “Perhaps the earth can teach us as when everything seems dead and later proves to be alive.”   It is a beautiful irony that the first week of our intense social distancing has hit over the Spring Equinox with such beautiful weather.  And it hits as we turn our gaze towards the primary Feast of our Church calendar – Easter.  When everything – including God – seems dead but later proves to be alive!   You see, this is the key which our life is attuned to – we live in longing towards this great hope and promise.  So rather than flee the unknown, perhaps we might embrace this invitation.  Not bury ourselves in fear or anxiety, though we will have our moments, but fix our eyes firmly again on the signs of life and hope that are all around us – even in unexpected places.   “Life is what it is about; I want no truck with death.”  

May the God of Easter life meet us in unexpected places this week, bringing you hope and renewing your vision with signs of life.   You are in my prayers.