Days of Uncertainty

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 springtime. On my ancient sewing machine where I made children’s clothing many years ago, I 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 worshipping community gathers together at 10:00 on Sunday mornings.” 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 Quaker George Fox’s words from the 17th century: Look not back, nor 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 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 the middle of all the confusion and uncertainty. Now is the only certainty we have.

Wendell Berry wrote that 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 amid 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.

12 thoughts on “Days of Uncertainty”

  1. I was never a follower of Ram Dass, though his “be here now” mantra resonated in my life a few times. Once when I was experiencing some great difficulty, my mother told me of a time in her life when she was almost paralyzed with grief: “All I could do,” she told me, “was put one foot in front of another.” Another time when I was struggling, she sent me a card she made herself with a painting of a yellow bird on a green branch and the advice to carry on and “some day the singing bird will come.”
    I guess that’s what we all must do‒put one foot in front of another, bake our bread, plant our seeds, love our friends and families‒all things we can do in this time of unusual uncertainty. So be here now. And some day the singing bird will come.

    1. Hi Maria,
      I believe that putting one foot ahead of another, as your mother commented, is the only way. In times of grief or fear, it can be hard to believe that anything is certain–or that singing birds will come. Embracing the things we find that affirm life, even in the midst of hardship, helps us to keep walking. Thank you for reflecting on this!

  2. Nancy, only
    Thank you for your thoughtful reflections regarding the uncertainties of our time, appreciating the small certainties like the rising of bread and the sprouting of seed although sometimes those small certainties are not always certain which is why the package of yeast is still in the fridge and I look with doubt at my bean rows
    scattered with paw prints and only three plants sprouting out of the ground, however I still have faith that as in other years they will all in good time pop up out of the ground, perhaps not in the exact spot where I placed the seed.
    One morning a few weeks back I woke up and wrote in my notebook.
    Spring in COVID-19
    The Birds are singing,
    The Daffodils are blooming,
    The Trees are leafing out.
    Thank you!
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Mary Ann, I loved your lines recognizing that in seeds and yeast there is also uncertainty! But the faith that keeps you planting seeds year after year is stronger than your doubts. And the “Spring in COVID-19” lines express a gratitude we need to discover again and again. Thank you for sharing. Nancy

  3. Thanks Nancy for your reminder to stay present. And as always, to appreciate the sacred in our daily lives often symbolized in things we do and take for granted everyday. If we had only known, as we attended your day long retreat at National Cathedral, how it was preparing us for the weeks and months to follow.
    I have to share that the Coronavirus situation had me extremely anxious in the last few weeks of March as I isolated alone in my house. That all changed when I listened to a podcast of a favorite pastor. He quoted the following in regards to uncertainty and worrying about life in the time of Covid:

    God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. (1 Thess. 5:9–10)

    I have been completely changed since hearing that. Live or die I am with Christ. And that is what I know. Right now.

    1. Dear Chris, I remember our day at the National Cathedral and the retreat I led on “Paying Attention to the Sacred in Daily Life”. You’re right about how little we realized about its importance to what was coming! May we continue, as we find our way through this time, to pay attention to the sacred. You have a strong foundation in knowing that you are with Christ! Therein is your strength.
      Peace, Nancy

  4. Nancy,
    I’ve reread this blog post several times now. Each time it sinks in a little deeper and a little differently. On Sunday when our Zoom worship encountered all kinds of difficulty, I sent copies to my staff and worship team. Your insights and examples are a blessing. You are not only sowing seeds in your garden, but also seeds in the souls of so many. Thank you.
    Peace be yours.
    Bonnie KS

    1. Hi Bonnie, Thank you for sharing this blog with your staff and worship team, and I hope it speaks to them, too. You are a sower of seeds, too, you know.

  5. I am in touch with my mortality more and it makes now more precious. I want to linger over feeling the richness of the compost and its complexity. I want to gaze at the azalea flower & its shimmering pistils.

  6. Hi Anne, Yes. Being an ‘older adult’ myself, this time comes with a deepened sense of mortality. And for me, that sense of mortality wakes me up to the burgeoning springtime world around me. To truly see the azaleas is wonderful.

  7. Hello friend Nancy,
    I have reflected on your last post…choosing to being alive in the now. Since you posted that there has been an abundance of death…from a virus induced illness we don’t understand and injustice we have been willing to live with for way too long.
    I find myself hunkered down away from our multigenerational home without the spontaneous joy and robust expressions of an almost four year old. My arms are empty. My heart tends to twist as I realize this will not be over soon.
    I also realize that for too many of our brothers and sisters this is their reality until life ends. How empty are their arms, hearts and homes.
    I am out of yeast…both figuratively and in fact. Only God, all three parts of Him/Her, can bring delicious bread forth from my kitchen.
    Please Father/Mother create in me a clean hopeful heart and heal each of us as we choose to heal our country.

    1. Dear Jacque, My heart aches for you and all whose arms are empty of what/who they love. May we be yeast and help hope and healing to grow and spread. May we each bear witness to Love as we are led to.
      PS. I’m writing my next reflection about justice and love….

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