As I mentioned in my sermon Sunday, in the early aughts, I spent a semester of self-study in South Korea. It was at a Buddhist university and a monastery was right aside it. I lived sort of like a monk that whole semester. I did not talk to a lot of people. Most of my time was spent alone. Despite my loneliness, or maybe even because of it, I often experienced moments of profound peace and even joy. I would walk outside and walk into town, and people were living their lives, businesses were doing their thing, the trees, the plants, the fields and open spaces, the air and the skies were interrelating in their natural ways. I was living amid, within the interconnectedness of all things. I was part of the interconnected nature of the universe. And when I really felt alone, I often resorted to either my friends, pen and notebook to write a poem with or to my dear, dear friend music to spend some time with.
In many ways, as we enter the depth of Winter during the depth of the Pandemic, we are sort of all living a quasi-cloistered life. Of course, the degree of that “quasi” depends on how strictly we are following the social distancing recommendations. But in the least we all are living less socially-interactive lives. For the introverts among us, this is beyond hard, I know.
That said, there is something to be gained from the quasi-cloistered life. I imagine virtually all of you have things you are ever more grateful for compared to our pre-Covid existences. The gift of in-person worship is an easy example. The sound of the church organ is another.
More than this, though, a quasi-cloistered life affords us the opportunity to watch for the small, simple joys all around us. The big, obvious gifts of family and friend time being harder to come by, we are forced to look for the less obvious connections in life – our connection to our surrounding environment, to our neighborhood ecosystem, to the birds that remain through the winter, to the snow that accumulates and resists easy melting until Spring, to the sounds of music that are easily accessible, to the activity of laughter that momentarily provide us the height of happiness, to the small snippet of days when a winter walk is doable. Latching unto these simple joys is the spiritual practice for us through this Covid-limited Winter.
A conjoining spiritual practice to discovering small, simple joys all around us is the practice of memorializing them. What does this mean? One great and easy example is keeping a journal specifically meant for the “counting your blessings and naming them one by one.” Maybe get one of those old-school composition books that you used to use in your old school. They are like a buck or two at CVS. In fact, that is my simple joy of the day – these inexpensive composition books, which I’ve used and filled-up for years and years. What a gift they’ve been to me!
So, Friends, as we enter the deep and dark days of Winter, may we resist the world’s way of merely wading through it all. May we both wade through and rise above it all, always looking up and meeting God in the Middle.