Dear Midnight

Dark nights of the soul—midnights—offer graces and blessings beyond our most radical imaginings.

Rain chased us into the house. We just did escape her.

Then she did her saturation dance on our greening yard, our back deck, our roof—all through the night. 

I know this because I stayed up past midnight listening to her. And thinking. 

An article in Politico on Friday lured readers with this title—“Coronavirus Will Change the World Permanently: Here’s How.” What the writers predict both intrigues and troubles. And I think they are right. This moment in time is changing all future moments in ways large and small that we cannot even imagine yet. 

We humans have always been more fragile than many of us realize or acknowledge as we go about our daily routines. Some of us know because of our own stories that life is a bittersweet mixture of wild wonders and wilderness wanderings, of joyous grace and jarring lament. Even so, we still don’t always wash our dishes, do our jobs, care for our children or do a whole assortment of other activities with this awareness front and center in our consciousness. 

Now, as a global human community, we are encountering with every sud that baptizes our hands and with each of our daily breaths just how uncertain life is. We are experiencing a global “dark night of the soul.”

And yet—dark nights of the soul—midnights—also offer graces and blessings beyond our most radical imaginings.

Some people in our communities have beheld and embodied these graces and blessings all along through their everyday days as they have lived with chronic illnesses or life-denying dangers in their communities or other persistent uncertainties in their lives. These people have already shown us how to embrace aliveness in the face of threats to human well-being and even human existence. We can look to them for wisdom and hope. They are too often unheard and unseen heroes and sages.

Yes, COVID-19 is changing us. Or perhaps it is awakening us to who and what we already were and are.

My prayer is that we say “yes” with courage to shaping what happens toward the love and grace of God. A former student of mine, Jesse Sorrell, is now a hospital chaplain. He shared powerful insights in a recent Facebook post:

Shift calls for response. Creation responds to decreation. Art arises from grief. What can you create right now?

Jesse Sorrell

Thank you, Jesse, for this reminder of the creativity that nests even within uncertainty and grief.

This moment in history is changing all future moments. Hmm…but doesn’t every moment in some way shape all future moments? What life-giving change can we live right now?

My poem is addressed to Midnight and wonders what we as a human community might learn in this time of uncertainty and scatteredness.

Dear Midnight,

Who do you talk to
when the wrens and robins
go quiet in a storm?
You know, when lightning
strikes every city in every land 
and ignites down deep darkness?

The tiny terrier and I
cock our heads–
She growls down deep,
suspicious at not hearing
electricity scurry
through the house.

Rain tiptoes toward us
then chases us home,
silken hair flying out behind her.
She slips inside the house as the
door slams with a sonic boom
and a splinter of light–

Silence sidles in too,
scampers off into corners
and down deep into crevices
as we all peer out the window
at a sky homesick for stars.

Dear Midnight,

Can you tell us what it all means?
You, who wander fields and forests
seeking the fierce feeble embers
of once-fiery mornings–

The tiny terrier and I
cock our heads–
and in the dripping
down deep darkness
a train whistle melts 
into the rain-slick trees 
while a beatific barn owl
queries the night. 

Wilderness Wanderings and Wonderings

I feel in the marrow of my liturgical theologian’s bones an acute awareness that the end of quarantine will not, even must not, mean “getting back to normal.”


The word has surged into our everyday parlance. What are its origins? And what can we learn from those origins about our use of the word today?

“Quarantine” is from the Italian “quadrants giorni” and means, literally, “space of forty days.”

The number 40 and spaces of forty days hold depths of meaning in many religious traditions. For example, Scripture tells us that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, and that Jesus fasted for 40 days in the Judean desert. The Christian liturgical season of Lent encourages 40 days of reflection leading up to Easter. The New Testament book of Acts marks a period of 40 days between the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

My wondering for today is this: perhaps “quarantine” in these COVID-19 crisis days, as worrisome and even frightening as the reality is for so many of us, can hold unanticipated (if unsought) spiritual meanings and awakenings.

One reality has become clear. We have entered into a time of unwanted sabbath from our usual way of doing things, and that is causing anxiety, uncertainty, and even danger for some people in our communities. Also, unlike the liturgical season of Lent, we don’t know when this particular 40 days will end.

Some Jewish scholars say that the biblical concept of “40 days and 40 nights” actually means “a really long time.” Uncertainties like those we are facing today can make each day seem like “a really long time.”

I dare not suggest what spiritual meanings “quarantine” may hold for any person or community. What I seek for myself is a mustard seed of wisdom for life and faith that might take root during this imposed Sabbath “space of 40 days.”

In the meanwhile, my prayer is that we seek ways to be present for each other even in the midst of isolation, and my hope is rooted in the wonders of a Gospel story that promises resurrection and new life when the sun sets not only on the last of the 40 days but on each and every day in between.

Of course, even as I write these words, I feel in the marrow of my liturgical theologian’s bones an acute awareness that the end of quarantine will not, even must not, mean “getting back to normal.” Just as the Christian resurrection story meant nothing about humanity or even creation was ever again the same, so, too, with this historic moment. We cannot get back to normal because normal was not and is not life-giving or hope-sustaining for so many people.

We need transformation.

We need resurrection.

I pray that it may be so.