The coronavirus outbreak has radically altered our days and brought a lot of emotions to the surface: the full gamut of hot and cold emotions from fear to trust, anger to joy. And sometimes some stories bubble up that express them. Some of the stories that have bubbled up for me have an autobiographical feel to them. As a kid I kind of identified with Chicken Little (“The sky is falling!”), empathized with the Boy who Cried Wolf (“Wolf!), and covertly idolized Holden Caulfield (“That’s something that annoys the hell out of me—I mean if somebody says the coffee’s all ready and it isn’t.”) We’ve entered a time and space that is largely unfamiliar to us and into circumstances over which we have little control. Could it be that paying attention to our emotions and stories will help us face today with energy and courage to write today’s story?
The story that has special meaning for me today is John Baptist de La Salle’s disposal of his inherited wealth to supply bread for the suffering citizens of Reims during the unforgiving winter of 1684-85. He gave up his inherited safety net and placed his future in God’s promise of his presence and power. When the fall harvest came in De La Salle reminded the Brothers that their reliance on Providence saw them through those days. I’d like to suggest that this story informs the Lasallian school of spirituality that is the ground for our own ministry of presence in the educational center or the community. It is a story of God’s abundance of care. How might each of us bring that same abundant care to the story we’re living right now? I’ll put forward my own suggestions—this being Lent, let’s make it alliterative.
I’ve been sent some cartoons that have made me laugh out loud, in part because I’m ready to laugh. A laugh is a small thing but it points to a bigger thing. We need to have fun, and the good news is we know what makes us laugh. Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs left this one out, but I’d like to make a friendly amendment and add this one in between safety and love and belonging (and while I’m at it, Wi-Fi down near the base). Let’s figure out how to have some fun in the midst of the loss. I went for a walk and started skipping. And that made me laugh and feel lighter. Movement can break the lock on our anxiety box. Tomorrow I’m going to dance. OK, so I’m not Alvin Ailey, but I can bust a move. (I can hear you laughing from here.)
Let others care for you. Chances are if you are reading this you are used to being the caregiver, or at least one of those who others look to bring that anxiety-free look to challenging situations. But we are not all composure and compassion all the time. Let’s agree that each of us needs to be off duty, even if for a short period, and then help one another enjoy that caring attention. Let God care for you—lean into the sustaining presence of God both in everyday activity and in prayer. Now, prayer may feel different. It can be confusing and unsettling to pray now. It’s certainly my experience. The places we pray (church, school, subway) aren’t available to us; the people we pray alongside (students, colleagues, sons and daughters) are sheltering in another place; the rhythm (at practice, school dismissal, bedtime) has been disrupted. So making some adjustments will take a while. I think Brother Joe Schmidt’s advice in Praying Our Experiences is timely: “Pray the way you can and not the way you can’t.”
Live into a new way of relationship: let’s figure out how to practice social distance, but also ways to stay emotionally close. I think listening, or I should say deep listening, will help us live into this liminal time. Listen to one another even if it’s FaceTime instead of face-to-face. Listen to one another in the same way that the holy Presence listens in the depths of our hearts.
Saint Paul beautifully draws the contours of love in his letter to the Corinthians. There is a special power in “love does not insist on its own way” (1 Cor 13.4). With so many sudden changes and so little experience with them, it is inevitable that we will disagree with others as to the who–what-when-where-how-and-why of decisions at work, home, and community. A love without insistence seems so right at this time. It’s a love that helps us bring calm and compassion to the intensity (fear, anger, anxiety, exhaustion for examples).
Let’s ask God for what we need to be a source of abundant care, and let’s keep one another close and present in thought and prayer.
Photo taken by Brother Timothy Coldwell, FSC
From the General Councilor’s Reflection Page
By Brother Timothy Coldwell, FSC