The Gift of Uncertainty


“Coming Home”  – oil on canvas painted by Rob Schouten. © Rob Schouten www.robschoutengallery.com

We are not afraid of hospitals, coughs, pink-slips or fevers.  We are afraid of horizons.

Fears of illness or financial collapse are less terrifying than the fears we hold around uncertainty and its inherent vulnerability.  It is not the shark fins or the rocky out-cropping that the ship’s captain hates; it is the fog.  It is the wet horizon of the mirror-surface of water that obscures the vast, hidden beneath-ness that he fears.

Never, in the history of this planet, has one species, populating its entire surface, been simultaneously aware of one, shared, unresolved threat. Never has such a planetary community – rich and poor- experienced uncertainty together.

The question now is not what we know, but rather, what we permit ourselves not to know.

Google Coronavirus in Google Images, and you will frequently see a floating sphere with red Dr. Seussian trees and orange bushes on a grey ball. Dig deeper and you will see that the virus collection comes in orange spheres with red trees, grey spheres with aqua trees, yellow spheres with olive trees and orange spheres with turquoise trees.  Our eyes are glued to our TVs and iPhones seeking answers.  Clarity.  Numbers. What is it?  How does it act? What will happen?  When will it end? What will happen to me?  To my beloved?

What is the spiritual practice of this time?  Do clergy have the answers, or just more dogma – more “being sure” of things eternal and internal? Do doctors, Presidents, news anchors, gurus – can they make us sure of things?  I suppose so, for people who need to resolve the suspense inherent in uncertainty. But it is snake-oil.  A drug.  A form of anesthesia. This is a time to exchange commandment and comfort with consciousness.

Might we use this time of Church-free, Synagogue-free, Mosque-free, Temple-free, bishop-free, dogma-free, clergy-free living to be with our God rather than have life interpreted for us with a cell-phone on a tripod in the echo-chamber of our empty sanctuaries? Might we use this transformational time to befriend our horizon, beyond which we simply cannot and may not see?

What if we used our time-out to avert our eyes from the spheres of the virus, or the denomination, the race, the neighborhood or, in my case, the island; and instead, be open to the sphere of this larger picture – a horizon over which we lack control and by which we have no real certainty? And as Holy Week approaches for some, perhaps we fast from liturgy in favor of a big gulp of wonder.

Suspense.  Perhaps this is a time remain in that on-the-edge-of-our-seat present moment; not rushing to resolve the minor cord begging for a happy ending.

In Langley, the village in which I live on this small island in the Salish Sea, we have an old-fashioned movie theatre…a one-person external box office – a roll of paper tickets torn by hand – speakers hung on the walls with wires.  Movie night is thrilling if a bit retro.

But would it not be terribly disappointing to go to the movies, approach the ticket booth, see the encased poster of the thriller about which you have read and heard rave reviews, and see a sign taped to it that says “The butler killed her with an icicle.” Is it not a buzz-kill to hear the end of the plot before enjoying the story?  And yet that is what our brains try to do in times like these.  We resolve the minor chord of the tune of our life or, for some darker psyches…make a major chord into a minor chord for no reason except to feel the drug of our own adrenaline.

In his painting “Coming Home” Rob Schouten, an artist in the village in which I live, offers no comfortable, tied up resolution. Like any good iconographer, he offers a window with a playfulness that keeps me guessing.  Every day, I mosey down through the village of Langley to the beach for my walks.  I press my face on the windows of his fully lit gallery, wipe the nose-smudge with a sterilizing wipe and move on to the beach to ponder; always bringing an image with me like some spiritual snack in a metaphorical pocket.

As we fast on religious assemblies, we are thinking for ourselves. We are living in the air between trapezes.  It can be terrifying, but it can also be exhilarating. We can stop seeking the answer to the thriller of our lives and instead, live in the questions a quiet horizon offers. It is humbling to be without certainty, however, when the ego experiences a loss, the soul always receives a gain.

I used this painting to meditate on uncertainty today.  I saw the planets and the cosmos; the forest and the doorway porch.  But not until I closed my eyes, did I see the embrace. And then I wondered, still wonder if the silent embraces of life are enough to abide in the uncertainty of life on this beautiful, blue-green frosted marble; floating it is in this explored 3% of our universe-horizon.

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