• Joel Harter

Finding Today's Haystack of Light

Updated: May 13, 2020

I'll be honest. Quarantine is hard.

Pre-Pandemic life was hard enough. I'd like to think I managed reasonably well enough, but folks who really know me had to see that I was not my best. I'm not that good an actor.

Flowers outside of Notre Dame, Summer 2019.

As a minister and spiritual educator, I preach or teach what I need to hear myself. I don't know if all ministers do that or not, but it's the only way I know how to authentically minister or chaplain. I lead Mindfulness workshops because I need to be more mindful. I talk about self-care because I need the reminder to take care of myself. Henri Nouwen's wounded healer speaks to me because I know, all too well, that I am wounded.

One silver lining of pandemic life is that it is more acceptable to admit you're struggling. Let's be honest. We're all struggling. And it's easier now to fall apart at home. I just have to mute my camera. It's also easier to go for walks in the middle of the day, and to zoom in my backyard or go to committee meetings with my dog.

Quarantine is hard, but oddly, surprisingly, self-care has become (finally) much more of a priority. I wouldn't be able to function otherwise, not even pretend function. I am thankful to have a job I can do remotely, to live in a neighborhood where I can walk safely, and to be connected to great community, even if remotely via zoom. Not the same, but grateful nonetheless, for friends, colleagues, and students, who don't mind my sweat pants and shaggy hair.

But quarantine is still hard, and my cracks are showing, even with the camera muted. I was supposed to write this reflection for Earth Week. That didn't happen. And then again last week. I wrote it in my head — that counts, right? Thank goodness I'm taking the semester pass/fail. Please be gentle, and let's keep grading each other on the gracious curve of lovingkindness.

When I first intended a meditation for Earth Week, a poem immediately jumped into my head — Mary Oliver's Mindful.

I feel the poem more or less speaks for itself. Go outside, sit in a sunny spot in the grass, and read it there. Better yet, forget the poem, and listen to the sunlight shadows play across your face. Close your eyes, open your hands, and see the warm cool grass against your skin.

Quarantine is hard, but for me, getting outside really helps, even if it is just the backyard.

If we open ourselves to it, if we put down our smartphones long enough — yes, even this reflection, put it down — and open our eyes and heart to the wonder all around us, then we will see or hear something each day that kills us with delight.

Today, right now, what is your haystack of light? It may be prayers of grass, or maybe an unexpected smile or laugh, the feel of clean sheets, warm sudsy water washing dishes, chopping vegetables, or studying all day in PJs.

Even if the day is hard or long — most days feel long right now — allow something (or someone) delightful to find you unawares, something ordinary, common, very drab, but exceptional nonetheless. Perhaps the light of your own being, which if you could truly see, you'd know is not common or drab at all, but it's own unique miracle, never to be repeated.

Shakespeare Bookstore in Paris

Joel Harter supports all the student organizations and affiliated ministries in religious and spiritual life on campus, and he develops programs and multifaith collaborations that support the spiritual and inner well-being of Elon students, faculty, and staff. Joel is an ordained congregationalist minister, who advises LEAF, PUG, and Elon Yoga Club. Joel has graduate degrees from Northwestern University, Harvard Divinity School, and the University of Chicago.

Contact: jharter@elon.edu

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