This will be a time of blessed pause, they say. It’s like a long sabbath for the world, where all of us stop our busyness and slow down. Spend more time in prayer and quiet, they say. Read. Paint. Write. I love these ideas. This pandemic we’re in has certainly caused us to slow down, even halt. But this is not a sabbath or pause for everyone, especially those with kids, those with jobs they depend on, and those who have to work even longer hours like medical professionals and grocery store workers.
Fear and Death
Those of us who are to be able to work from home are fortunate. And we do that while running a full time school for our kids while attempting to send work emails, have conference calls, and keep as much of our sanity together as we can. Then there are those who either can’t work from home or are deemed essential workers: health care workers, emergency services, garbage collectors, postal workers, delivery people, grocery store workers, and utility workers. These are the people who are most exposed to potential infection, and for me it reveals not just a class issue, but it shows who’s truly essential: those who often get paid the least. I have much deeper reverence for the checkout clerk at the grocery store and the person collecting my garbage.
Life and death becomes so much more real for all of us, too. We hear of friends or loved ones who get sick and wonder, will it be severe? Will there be a ventilator available? We fear for our parents and loved ones who are older, who we cannot visit. We hear of people dying in insolation, families not able to visit to say goodbye.
This time evokes fear – probably for most of us. Fear can indeed be a good thing. It’s what keeps us safe at home and away from others, in an effort to “flatten the curve”. But fear can also be from the evil spirit, highlighting only the direness of the situation, the uncertain future.
Hope and Resurrection
Yet through this all I’ve been moved by signs of the good spirit. The pattern we believe in, as Christians, is that fear and death always lead to hope and new life. Resurrection always has the last word. So as businesses layoff workers and close, children stay home from school, and social engagements that were a way of life are no more, there is a sliver of newness that emerges through the ashes.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
There is a new togetherness I’m witnessing, a new communion by way of video chats and social media. We can play and pray together still, laugh and make merry. I’ve uncovered a new reverence for technology and the holy good it is doing, allowing my daughter to virtually visit a zoo and meet a hippopotamus, celebrate Mass with her uncle, and see a friend from school she misses. Birthday celebrations and cocktail parties now happen online. And while I miss the physical presence, the embraces of friends, the clinking of glasses, I am so very grateful that these relationships need not be put on hold. It has given me new meaning to the Body of Christ.
And the creativity people and business are exercising in this new communion is a sign of God’s continuous creating and gifting and giving. The young reach out to the old to check in. As people slow down, so does pollution and climate change. As I spend day after day at home I get to bond way more deeply with my children than I would have ever imagined. And there’s a chance the worst can come out in me, but it’s an opportunity to have a mirror held up to me so I can grow. Even my daughter has had a new chance to bond with her baby brother. These are all signs that the good spirit is lurking.
The world may not look the same on the other side of all this. It may appear as death, but this time will bring transformation: of families, of vocations, of hearts, and of the earth (even she gets a rest). Our priorities and values will shift. Economic realities, social realities, human realities, and even religious realities. We will imagine church anew as well, when we realise that we can still worship and pray and find community outside of the church building.
The Third Week of the Spiritual Exercises is all about death, the death of Jesus. All seems lost. But then we discover that it is a transformative death. The Fourth Week is about resurrection. The other side of death seldom looks like what life did before. When that new life comes I will find that much more joy in taking my daughter in person to a zoo or watching her play with her friends. I will embrace my friends more lovingly, see my community more unified, and thank my God more wholly.
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