The expression “sheltering in place” bothers me. It’s not the “sheltering” that gets me. It’s the “in place” part. Remember what “running in place” felt like in your old gym class? It felt a lot like being a hamster on a treadmill. And already, sheltering in place has begun to seem like a nonstop rerun of “Groundhog Day.”
That’s why I was particularly struck by The Rev. Richard Rohr’s reference to “sheltering in the heart.” Coming from the heart gives me a new way of seeing and being. I quickly looked up “sheltering” in the dictionary.
Sheltering refers to taking refuge; finding a place of protection. It occurred to me that Divine Love is both of those things for me.
It’s where I’ve always wanted to live, but where I didn’t think I could possibly take up residence.
It turns out that I can shelter in the heart simply by claiming it, by boldly imagining and immersing myself in love. What if I came from love? It’s not only where I start out, but it’s also that to which I return in each moment.
Imagine living in the space of unconditional love, forgiveness and understanding? I wanted what sheltering in love could offer me, even if I was not quite sure I could imagine it.
What came as the greatest surprise is how I imagined treating myself. What if I truly loved myself? What if I treated myself with compassion, with something approaching tenderness? And what if I could really forgive myself?
I’m aware of how often I doubt, judge and am unkind to myself, in addition to, berating and belittling myself. The forgiveness I’m writing about isn’t some form of self-indulgence. It is not like I am trying to explain away or excuse myself from everything that’s ever happened. I am finally “for-giving” love to myself !
So what about the other values (and there are so many): Among them; clarity, courage, faith, integrity, inclusivity, hope and trust. The list goes on and on. What values are particularly important to you?
American thinkers ranging from Benjamin Franklin to Brene Brown have written about the importance of identifying our fundamental values and finding ways to live by them. Because we need to shelter in place anyway, how can you and I possibly use this everyday occurrence?
What if each day became an opportunity to focus on a particular value or virtue? We would use that particular value as the one for that day; the focal point for what we think, what we say, how we act. That value then becomes a lens through which we examine everything that shows up in our experience.
On the day that I am “Sheltering in the Heart,” I could look at how I treat myself and others. It’s not a day for judgment, just for noticing myself and the possibility of replacing my usual responses with something quite different. Even if we don’t do it every day — even if we only do it only once a week — imagine how much ground we would cover?
Here in Austin, we’ve been in quarantine since March. At this point, that’s more than six months … 27 … more than 180 days. Each new day ahead of us, whether or not we are in shelter, presents a fresh opportunity for our practice.
This practice doesn’t prevent me from being depressed or anxious from time to time; nor would I expect that. But now I have a different reference point and that one thing means everything to me.
I can find shelter here in the heart. It doesn’t have to be a temporary residence. It can be my permanent address. Sometimes, just a single word or maybe even a single image can profoundly alter how I experience the world. How about for you?
Susan Hawkins Sager is a fellow pilgrim who has also been ordained as interfaith clergy.