I’m not an early riser. I prefer staying up late. It’s always been that way, ever since I was a little kid. Over the past several years I’ve read so many articles about why it’s healthier to go to bed early and rise early. I get the medical position on it all. I do. It makes sense. But inevitably when someone – often my nurse practitioner daughter, Zoe – directs me to follow this medical advice, I quote Willie Nelson: “The night life ain’t no good life but it’s my life”.
While my night owl habits are still largely intact as I age, I am now waking up early in the morning, my brain already fully engaged by certain big questions and challenges. This unfortunate development tends to pop my eyes open way too early in the morning – 6:30am!
I’ve been focusing a lot of spiritual and planful time pondering the question, “What now?” What can I do in the world now that I am vaccinated? When can I travel? When can we gather together in the sanctuary? In a restaurant? When can we hug each other?
We’ve all been living in such an insular world, surrounded by our four walls. Technology has been our only doorway to meaningful connection. This reality has increased our focus on life in a very internal space, physically and spiritually. “Out there” feels further and further away.
It occurred to me recently that this applies to how we see – or don’t see – the rest of the world. We are so tuned out of other space and other people’s lives. For instance, we haven’t spent any time talking about Israel. Even though our congregation has a strong connection to Israel; even though we have traveled there with different cohorts over the years – we’re out of touch. And that’s with a nation to which we are tightly connected. What about, well, anywhere else?
We’ve been inside for so long, it’s hard to remember what it’s like out there. We have a hard time navigating international news in the easiest of times. In this pandemic world, it is infinitely worse. It challenges our ability to empathize with others, to feel a sense of compassion for the suffering of Venezuelan refugees or the people of Myanmar or… any number of other fellow citizens of this planet.
In the book of Genesis, there is a beautiful and evocative scene between God and Abraham. It sprang into my brain the other morning at around 630am. Abraham is concerned that he and Sarah will not be able to fulfill the promise they have made to God to be the father and mother of the Jewish people. He’s been brooding in his tent, dejected, eyes downcast.
God takes Abraham out of his tent and says to him, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And God added, “So shall your offspring be.” Stop looking down! Stop feeling limited by your goatskin tent. The world is not your tent; it’s out here. Your destiny is not to be found inside – it’s out here where the line to infinitude is in the stars.
Perhaps this year has felt like the title of Richard Farina’s novel, Been Down So Long Looks Like Up to Me. We’ve been inside for so long that it’s taken over our sense of self. We are obsessively warned about how vigilant we must be, even as the sensational success of the three vaccines is downplayed. We feel the confinement is now our human condition.
God pulled Abraham out of his tent to look up and take in the sheer transcendent magnificence of the nighttime sky. We are a part of this Universe: expanding, brilliant, impossibly huge beyond our capacity to understand. We are stardust, a part of a cosmos filled with the thrum of connection and time. When God says to Abraham, “Count the stars”, the Holy One knows that Abraham can never count to stars. The idea isn’t to quantify; it’s to appreciate, to find inspiration.
What now? Who knows? But this I can tell you: it’s not in your living room or your study or your laptop. It’s not in the tent. It’s out here.