I’ve postponed to next week a previous reflection about meditating on the psalms, a spiritual practice routinely followed in monasteries. But, given what I’m about to say, it may become all the more relevant.
Emails from blog readers and the cancellation or reconfiguration of local personal or religious gatherings has taught me how further isolating the coronavirus, or COVID-19, can be. To several readers, already isolated because of health or age or retirement, I’ve written this could be our “monastic” opportunity to experience the value of being “all-one” (where the word “alone” comes from) as well as resting in God, taking a break and a breath and a breather, especially important resisting a respiratory infection.
Those of you who have attended workshops or retreats or even committee meetings with me know my fondness for those present to take what I call “monastic moments” to consult their own hearts. I especially find this helpful when I pose a question or problem to a group and wish to avoid the person who speaks first distracting us from our own answers or solutions. A moment of silence allows each one of us to prepare our own thoughts and feelings for sharing with the group.
We need more moments of silence to consider who we are and whose we are—and here I don’t just mean God, but our spouses, our families, our communities of faith and otherwise, everything from our neighborhoods and cities to our countries and our environment.
The limitations prompted by our present pandemic offer each one of us a very personal “existential crisis”—a phrase much bandied about in our political debates these days. We are given an occasion to ponder vital questions: Why are we here? What do we value most? Who do we want to become? What do we believe in? Whom do we love? What do we live for?
Many of us need more than a monastic “moment” to consider if not answer these questions. We need a contemplative retreat, a temporary withdrawal from our busy world of interactions, entertainment, nonstop news, activities, and problem-solving. This may be our 40-day sojourn in a wilderness, our valley of the shadow of death to recognize that God is with us—even here.
And, I would say, we need a retreat “leader,” a guide, someone whose spiritual counsel we trust. Right now, mine is Kathleen Norris and her book The Cloister Walk. Over the years, my retreat leaders have included Henri Nouwen, Thich Nhat Hanh, Mary Oliver, Maya Angelou, The Dalai Lama, Richard Rohr, Hildegard of Bingen, Martin Luther King, Barbara Brown Taylor, Mahatma Gandhi, Evelyn Underhill, Thomas Merton, and especially Jesus—to name a handful of hundreds of guides who have taught me something about myself, about God, about you, about our world.
Who is your “go-to” spiritual guide whose writings you may once again dive into in your social distancing? You don’t have to find yourself alone.
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