Toward a Spirituality of Pandemic
The words “religion” and “ligament” share a common Latin root, “ligare,” meaning “to bind.” A ligament binds bone to bone. It holds your bones together. Religion could be defined as “that which keeps you together.” Given this broad definition, some might claim art, music or nature as their religion.
How might religion/spirituality hold us together in a pandemic?
When our “Adapting to Aging” group at Montgomery Place convenes, we talk about ways to decrease isolation and maintain equilibrium. What holds your bones together? Some answers from residents: “Reaching out to family, friends and neighbors. Music. Good books and movies. Even junky TV. Taking a class at iTunes university. Keeping busy, but not over-doing. Being in the garden. Helping someone else. Appreciating little things. Taking a break from the news. Exercise.” (Note no one said, “Drinking heavily.”)
Take it a day at a time, and also taking the long view: this too shall pass. While acknowledging it’s a hard time, be joyful when you can. Be kind, including to yourself.
Collectively as a nation, we are grieving. Grief embodies denial, sadness, anger, fear, despair, numbness. All of us have lost something to the pandemic. There is so much uncertainty. What’s going to happen? We need to balance realism and optimism. You may have heard of the Stockdale paradox, popularized by Jim Collins in his book Good to Great.
James Stockdale was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for seven years. He was tortured repeatedly, and given little hope of returning to his wife and family. He survived because he managed to face squarely the horror of his situation. He found ways to cope—and help fellow prisoners do so—while never losing the assurance that, ultimately, he would prevail.
Victor Frankl, psychotherapist, holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, had a similar idea pre-dating Stockdale’s paradox. He called it “tragic optimism” and defined it as remaining optimistic in spite of the “tragic triad” of pain, guilt and death.
As one resident says, “The situation is awful. But I’m coping.”
Yes, you (plural) are. Montgomery Place residents are resourceful, courageous and indulge in very little self-pity. You paint, discuss poetry, read plays, organize activities. You worship online, discuss current events, meet over wine and cheese via Zoom or in the garden. You bike 30 miles along the Lake. You wear masks and respect distancing.
You are awesome! You are holding yourselves together, through your values and efforts and relationships.
Poet and Unitarian minister, Lynn Ungar, in her poem “Pandemic,” invites us to see this time as Jewish people view the Sabbath. A time to fast from being overly active. A time to recognize our lives are inter-twined. We need one another. A time for solitude, solace and solidarity with the beloved community.
Perhaps you, like me, have experienced some gifts during the pandemic: more time with family, more time to read and introspect. Perhaps you are more aware of your blessings. Being grateful is an advanced spiritual state.
Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry says we need an organizing principle. “Love God, love neighbor, love self” works for him. He tries to spend some time each day doing those three things. They can be small things.
Author Anne Lamott writes, “Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.”
If during these days, you feel troubled by anxiety or depression, something beyond “the blues” or feeling stressed, know you aren’t not alone. Nearly twice as many Americans are currently struggling with anxiety or depression today than they were in 2019, per CDC research. There are resources to help, and I will gladly steer you to them as needed.
By now it is a truism that we are in this together, but…we are. Together we’ll get through this.
Stay well and at peace. Watch a funny TV show or video. Keep your bones together, but it’s okay if your sides split sometimes.
Dear Montgomery Place Community,
As we all deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, I thought you might benefit from a few things I have discovered:
1) an article with food for thought
2) a poem to pique your interest
3) a prayer
There is no “right” way to handle this.
In the Time of Pandemic
And the people stayed home.
And they read books, and listened, and rested,
and exercised, and made art, and played games,
and learned new ways of being, and were still.
And they listened more deeply. Some meditated,
some prayed, some danced.
Some met their shadows. And the people began
to think differently.
And the people healed.
And, in the absence of people living in ignorant,
dangerous, mindless and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people
Joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices,
and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully,
as they had been healed.
Prayer During Pandemic
Ever present God
Be with us in our isolation,
Be close to us in our distancing,
Be healing in our sickness,
Be joy in our sadness,
Be light in our darkness,
Be wisdom in our confusion,
Be all that is familiar when all is unfamiliar,
That when the doors reopen
We may…inhabit our communities,
And speak of your goodness to an emerging world.
–Andrew Nunn, Southwark Cathedral
Stay well and strong! Call any time: (847) 977-1984.
Dear Montgomery Place residents, families and staff,
Here are two spiritual resources I’ve found reassuring and inspiring this week. The first is from Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. You may remember him as the preacher at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding.
And, Phyllis Booth kindly shared this poem by Unitarian minister Lynn Ungar. It’s been going viral (so to speak)!
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath–
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You can hardly deny it now).
Know that our lives are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, this has come clear).
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
Others of you have sent me reflections that help you make sense of things or focus on what matters most. I appreciate that, and look forward to more of this mutual sharing.
In the meantime, take care of yourselves and those around you. Stay strong and well. We’ll be in touch.