Embracing Uncertainty

People often say to me, ‘Your faith must help your cancer.’ To which, if they will listen, I generally reply, ‘No, cancer helps my faith.’ What I mean by that is that my experience of cancer has impressed on me the fact that we are not in control, and control isn’t the most important thing in life anyway.

Today the whole world is being asked to embrace an uncertainty such as we have not experienced in a long time. Those who say, ‘ Our faith will get us through,’ are undoubtedly sincere but do not always recognize that faith isn’t something any of us can summon up at will, nor is it much use as a crutch. Our belief should encourage us to hope and prompt us to show love to others, but most of us know dark times when our belief falters, our hope evaporates and love is just a word. That is human and natural and not something we should scold ourselves for — still less, anyone else.

As always, I think we need to turn to the gospels and see how Jesus coped with the temptation to despair or rebel against the Father (if you don’t think he was ever tempted, I suggest re-reading the gospel for the first Sunday of Lent or the accounts of the agony in the garden at Gethsemane). He truly struggled. Many people are struggling now. Here in the monastery, where we are familiar with lockdown (only we call it ‘enclosure’) and practise a form of social distancing (only we call it ‘solitude’), we know that the single most important thing we can do for anyone is to pray, and pray we do. In prayer we embrace the uncertainty of life, for prayer is God’s gift. It all depends on him, but because it all depends on him, we need to stay alert and be co-operative.

That applies to every situation, including the one in which we find ourselves now where the rapid acceleration of COVID-19 is causing great distress and anxiety. In the U.K. this morning the message is clear: stay at home. No ‘ifs’, no ‘buts’, just stay at home. That need not be a negative experience, but for many it will be very hard, requiring a renunciation of self few have been required to make before. I am reminded of Abba Moses, one of the Desert Fathers, encouraging a younger monk with the words, ‘Stay in your cell and it will teach you all things.’ Perhaps that sentence is one to ponder as we enter lockdown, and to remember it was love that prompted the monk’s withdrawal into the desert in the first place. We cannot know what the future holds, but faith, hope and love come together in an uncertainty that is, paradoxically, very sure. Let us embrace it as best we can.

For an audio version:

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18 thoughts on “Embracing Uncertainty”

  1. Well said. My own decades of chronic illness have led me down a rich pilgrimage of reliance on God without whom I am as nothing. My pain and disease keep me grounded. I don’t know if I expressed that very well but I am in agreement. Being housebound now life is just the same.

  2. Yesterday I decided to postpone my Morning Offices and go for my walk first. I saw three dog walkers walking together on the footpath I usually use as if it was normal times. I decided only to walk on the roads. I was rewarded by seeing 9 Brown Hares, three of them rushing around on the hillside, Canada and Greylag Geese, Lapwings and, towards the end a Raven. St Benedict was helped by a Raven and I can’t remember seeing one here, perhaps this was a sign. Not saying my Office early broke the entire rhythm of my day, as soon after I got home my wife wanted breakfast so my Office was delayed yet again.

    The Prime Minister’s statement made me reconsider my plans, so I said my Office at my normal time and will suspend my walks, as much as I love them. I’d like to thank the Raven.

  3. Just being careful as I have Asthma and Diabetes and my wife is a lot older and has a heart condition and limited mobility. Just can’t take chances as her carer.

  4. I think it wise to, as I have two of the listed conditions, and my wife is older with a heart condition and limited mobility. As her carer it would, I think, be irresponsible to take too many risks.

  5. Thanks, for the audio version Sr. Will listen to all past & futures versions daily for lent. Always preferred doing something, rather than just giving something up for lent.

  6. As I self-isolate (over 70) I try to remember to keep thanking God for the good bits: I have my husband with me, we have a decent-sized garden to get outside into (and now a lot of time to tend it!) we have lovely neighbours who came round at once to ask how they could help us, and the sun is shining. I must remember all the people who do not have all of this to get them through the tough time. Gratitude definitely called for.

  7. Beautiful, and thank you so much. I shall read it again this evening and ponder on it.

    I was thinking about this “lockdown” earlier on. I do agree it has many lessons to teach us, not least of which is to go deeper into the wilderness with Jesus in this time of Lent. And then a friend sent me a little scripture which was a great comfort, Joshua 1:9.

  8. Thank you for your comments. I can see many parallels between monastic life and the experience of lockdown, social distancing and self-isolation we are going through. I’ve mentioned some of them in previous posts, but life isn’t just COVID-19. Tomorrow we celebrate the lovely solemnity of the Annunciation — joy and hope for all the world.

  9. I do understand how cancer has helped your faith, Sister Catherine. During a difficult family situation of many years duration some people suggested my husband’s and my faith must have somehow softened the experience, but we actually found with each blow suffered grace was extended in unexpected ways and so our faith shored up.

    Coping with this new normal and all it brings does require a mindset adjustment, and faith and hope will help. But, as you say, it does depend on Him – we don’t always need to meet God halfway, we simply need to reach out towards Him in prayer and with trust – He will invariably meet us where we are and lead us to where we need to be.

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