By Susan Anquist
Last month I turned sixty. If my plans had fallen into place I would have been somewhere out there on pilgrimage in Spain. Instead, my body turned sixty amidst a pandemic and the immense sorrow of watching a fellow human, being murdered before my eyes. Sorrow. Such sorrow. How do I hold all that is happening in the world?
One of the things that brings me comfort is poetry. I read and bask in poetry every single day. There is a certain graciousness implicit in poetry. Poetry does not state the obvious, but allows words to penetrate into places I have not been capable of naming.
On my sixtieth birthday, I took notice of the poet Mary Oliver’s words, “Are my boots worn? Is my coat torn? Am I no longer young? And still half perfect? Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work.” The difficult part of these words is not the fact that I am getting older and still not all-together. That is self-evident. The hard part is figuring out where my work lies. Sometimes it is obvious. But right now, I feel a bit like I am shoveling fog.
As a spiritual director, I find immense pleasure in bearing witness to the work of God in the fog, as a ray of light breaks through. Holy Listening. Holy Sacred Listening. It is the reason I have my own spiritual director. Having a companion, who is willing to be in the fog and rejoices in the breaks of light with me.
At sixty, I am still learning how to find my way, and this plays out in the fog and the sorrow of the day. I am still astonished by the work of God especially in the mysteries of life. Today, my heart whispers a faint cry to God, Help me hold the uncomfortable, for the sake of my brothers and sisters. Help me open my white privileged heart to be a better listener and to respond in ways that will bring hope and healing. Help me to listen. Help me to hold my own brokenness. Open my eyes to see You, the hovering Holy One, attending to our profound brokenness. Amen.
One morning, not long ago I sat with the beautiful drawing by Fritz Eicheberg called, “The Christ of Breadlines”. The spiritual practice of Visio Divina opened me up in an unexpected way. The drawing drew my attention to the presence of God in the neediness of the present slice of history. In Padraig O. Tuama's book, In the Shelter, says, “To name something is to come into relationship with it”. This spiritual practice aided me in naming some of the emotions that I was feeling. Naming things can be uncomfortable, necessary work.
Perhaps this is the work Mary Oliver’s poem is calling me towards? My response came in the form of a poem.
God In the Breadline
Oh God, we are the Samaritan lying wounded.
We are the passerby.
Oh God, we are the bleeding woman.
Deeply desiring to touch your cloak.
Oh God, we are the pilgrims.
On our way to Emmaus.
From where can we flee your Presence.
Where are you?
Of Shadow and Light,
You are in the bread line.
You are with those gasping to breathe.
Even as we lay, pass by, respond, bleed, reach,
Seek, are blinded.
Lift our knee.
Breathe life, Oh God.
What are you noticing right now?
Are there things to let go of, things that served you but no longer serve you?
Are there things that need a name?
Are there invitations to lean in to?
What is being germinated? Planted? Discarded/uprooted? Embraced?
Oh God of the breadline, the Indwelling One, Help us to recognize You in unexpected places this day. Amen.
Susan Anquist lives in British Columbia with her husband Warren. She is the mother of two married children and their spouses. She is grandmother to three lively, lovely granddaughters one, four and six years old. For the past 20 years, Susan was a part of the ministry team for OASIS Ministries, a ministry focused on providing a space for ministry leaders to process transitions and deal with the stresses of ministry/personal life. She holds a Masters of Arts in Spiritual Formation and a certification for spiritual direction from Portland Seminary. She practices spiritual direction both online and in her community. She loves walking. In 2018, she walked part of the Camino de Santiago. Her plan was to complete more of that journey in May 2020, but due to our current circumstance, she will walk another time. She loves reading, poetry and finds much joy in writing. She has a spiritual formation blog on Instagram (#Susan.Anquist).