This year, midwinter is arriving in the middle of the Omicron wave of COVID-19. Just as it seemed like things were getting to some sense of a new normal, my spiritual community was forced to make a decision that meant going back to virtual services and meeting. To say this was discouraging would be an understatement, and I suspect it’s brought up a lot of feelings for many people as I know we’re not the only congregation facing such dilemmas.

We hoped this wave would dissipate within a month, but it’s holding on nationwide, with every state and territory facing unprecedented numbers of new COVID cases. My partner and I saw this first hand at the beginning of January when we both tested positive. I’ve seen more people I know get COVID this month than in the previous two years put together.

So, as we approach the ancient festival of Imbolc, a time of renewal and looking forward to the coming spring, I’ve really been thinking about how to find a sense of healing and rejuvenation in these times. Part of it, for me, has been in planning a trip to Peru, my first major non-holiday related trip since 2019 and the first international trip since 2015. This means that I am not only planning my itinerary and getting tickets to major sites like Machu Pichu, but also doing a running/stair climbing regiment so I’ll be in good enough shape for the intense walking ahead of me.

And, in the midst of planning this trip, I find myself thinking about the little things that keep me going: meditation, devotionals, learning new languages, taking care of my animal companions, spending time with my partner, serving my religious community, facilitating and attending trainings about mental health, and so much more. Just by becoming aware of the things that are holding me up, I’m finding it easier to remember that I do have ways I’m taking care of myself.

Certainly international travel can be one such way (if you’re into that sort of thing), but renewal can happen for free or little cost and close to home. As Dorothy Day reminded us, this may require opening ourselves up to new ways of thinking and feeling; after all, we often feel stale and uninspired when our lives are no longer serving us. Renewal doesn’t wait for the world to change or for conditions to be perfect, but marches ahead, figuring out how to go on even in the midst of a seemingly endless pandemic.

So this is your Imbolc homework: what are you doing to renew yourself? How are you finding new ways of doing things even when they feel comfortable? Figure it out and go towards your future!

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