In the midst of these days of uncertainty, I have turned to things that remain constant. I bake, knowing I can depend on yeast to create a well-risen, delicious loaf of bread. I plant seeds in my garden that will grow into lettuce and beans and cucumbers. The turn of the seasons is unchanging, and it is summertime. On my ancient sewing machine where I made children’s clothing many years ago, I now make masks for my family. Sewing is the same as always though I’ve never sewn masks before.
Engaging in small certainties brings me comfort. My family has been fortunate in many ways. We continue to have work. We have known some who have been ill or died, but we have lived in good health. I know this could change at any time.
The reality of uncertainty, of not knowing what lies ahead has touched us all, and created much anxiety and fear. We have lived in the illusion of certainty, the security of believing that we knew what tomorrow would bring. I never fully appreciated that blessing. Now I realize that I know less than ever before. Now I recognize certainty was always an illusion even when I trusted it.
Then I could say, “Of course I’ll meet with my book group on Mondays and my writing group on Tuesdays. Of course we’ll take a trip somewhere this summer. We want to visit our family in Seattle, and perhaps plan a vacation to my beloved England.” Then I could say, “Of course my worshiping community gathers together Sunday mornings at 10:00 a.m.” Then I could say, “I’ll be glad to meet with you for spiritual direction. My little office is on Columbia Ave.”
Now what do I know? Not much. The public discussion is focused on opening up, but no one really knows what we’re opening into—or how to do it well. While some make predictions confidently, the forecasts show little agreement. How do we live with such uncertainty? How do we live with the insecurity of such unknowing?
It’s natural to want to see further ahead. There is wisdom in planning for the future, but if we focus too much on peering through the fog of confusion, we may miss the certainties that we have. We may miss living fully alive now.
I remember George Fox’s words from the seventeenth century: “Look not back, nor be too forward . . . for you have no time but this present time.” All I have is this present time. To look not too forward means I have to accept living with a lot of uncertainty. I have to find a stable footing within the world’s present instability.
A friend said recently, “So how do I live the rest of my life—COVID and all?” That’s the big question. We begin living the rest of our lives here and now in all the confusion and uncertainty. Now is the only certainty we have.
Wendall Berry wrote, “It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work.” Real work, real living, he says, begins with not knowing. This is where we are, confused and uncertain. So let us begin.
What do I know now? I know that seeds grow into fruit, that yeast expands into bread. I know that online visits with those I love encourage all of us even if we can’t hug. I know that laughter is healing, and so are tears. Perhaps my real work is planting seeds, baking bread, and loving my neighbors. Perhaps my real living is walking with others on the path of unknowing amidst the angst of uncertainty.
This is our now. May we find gratitude and love on this path. May the Spirit guide us in our real work, the work of living fully alive in this present time.