Epiphany Reflection: Ennui vs. Epiphany
Epiphany Reflections 2022
Confluence, a Center for Spirituality in the Diocese of Missouri, dedicated to providing opportunities and resources for spiritual formation.
Comedian Paula Poundstone quipped: “You know what? I’m wearing my whole house as a mask. I just don’t leave. That’s what I do. It’s my N-95.”
I laughed and tried not to cry.
She was on “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!” (National Public Radio) a few weeks ago. Lots of satire from the panel of stand-up comics on the vicissitudes of wearing masks. Poundstone’s wisecrack captured a truth about my reality. Perhaps your reality, too.
Since mid-March 2020 my wife and I have worn our house as a mask. With a few crazy exceptions (try a 5-day contactless drive to San Diego to meet our newborn grandchild) we don’t go anywhere.
We stay-in, eat-in, worship-in, shop-in, TeleMed-in. We’re wearing out the upholstery, but dare not furniture shop.
You might say we ennui-in.
It’s a real thing: COVID-related ennui. It’s the existential experience of muddling, languishing, a depletion and dimness just short of the darkness of depression. Ennui is not new, but its global pervasiveness is alarming to social scientists who track the mental health consequences of the COVID pandemic. The sickness, deaths, fears, and prolonged lock-downs have “plunged us into a state of collective ennui so profound it’s like a waking coma” (Tim Elliot, Sydney Morning Herald).
Waking and walking around in a coma. That’s COVID-ennui.
But wait! Is that all there is, I think to myself. No, because while a certain ennui coma touches me, it does not capture all of me.
Hope, love, and light also exist and lay their hands on my heart.
Dimness and darkness, I must remember, are where the slightest light shines the brightest. It’s where we plant seeds, are on high alert for the slightest movement, where poets and playwrights mine for inspiration, where the nourishment of compost strengthens new growth. All of them Epiphanies of one sort or another.
Barbara Taylor Brown, Episcopal priest and writer, sat in the darkness of the famous Organ Cave in West Virginia a few years ago to realize anew:
“Resurrection is always announced with Easter lilies, the sound of trumpets, bright streaming light. But it did not happen that way. If it happened in a cave, it happened in complete silence, in absolute darkness, with the smell of damp stone and dug earth in the air. Sitting deep in the heart of Organ Cave, I let this sink in: new life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark” (Learning to Walk in the Dark, Harper Collins, 2014).
Her words have helped keep me from being swallowed by COVID-ennui. Helped me remember that the valley of dry bones is only temporary. Helped assure me again of the promise of my baptism that the light shines in the darkness which has no power to overcome it.
The Rev. Paul Metzler, retired Episcopal priest, is on the Board of Confluence and a Priest Affiliate of Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Webster Groves.