Pandemic Practices

By Janet Davis

Janet is a local Austin spiritual director

Count losses and blessings

As I sat down to record a few thoughts from this oddly shaped season of pandemic, a voice within began to discount my story: “You haven’t been a big loser here. You are healthy. You can still work. Both are true for your husband and kids, too. No one needs to hear your story.” So many others have suffered so many larger losses. The US unemployment rate is “a Depression-era level of 14.7%.” (https://apnews.com/908d7a004c316baceb916112c0a35ed0) Others estimate 1 in 4 or 5 Americans have lost their job. Thousands have died.

While we do need to hear and tend those voices of economic suffering and sorrow, I suddenly recognized that it might also be helpful to hear from one of the majority of folks who hasn’t suffered that magnitude of loss but has still met loss. In fact, it might be an important time to remember that all loss counts.

As she often does, Brene’ Brown says it well:

“Love is the last thing we need to ration right now. Comparative suffering is dangerous. Empathy is not finite. When we practice empathy, we create more empathy. The exhausted ER doctor doesn’t benefit more if you reserve your empathy only for her and ignore your feelings or withhold empathy from someone lower on the “suffering scale.”

Hurt is hurt and every time we honor our own struggle and the struggles of others by responding with empathy, the healing that results affects us all.” (Brene’ Brown. Unlocking Us podcast, episode #4.)

All loss counts. The loss of a sense of safety, the ability to plan, holding grandkids, enjoying dinner parties, witnessing unmasked and smiling faces on passing strangers. The loss of peace of mind and good nights of sleep. Of the call and response of liturgy, the taste of communion bread and wine on the tongue, the warmth of a hug as the peace is exchanged. The loss of trust in leaders or even neighbors. All losses count. Naming them, feeling them, grieving them makes space for new possibilities and sometimes can even clear our tearful eyes to help us see our many blessings.

What has the pandemic taken from you? What has it given you?

Nurture a new kind of hope

About a month into staying at home, Richard Rohr (https://cac.org/mystical-hope-2020-04-16/ ) published some thoughts of Cynthia Bourgeault’s on two kinds of hope: “ordinary” or outcome-based hope and “mystical,” or what I have come to call “God-with-us-now” hope.

Most of us know ordinary hope as optimism; a belief that things will be better in the future, a vision for goodness. Right now, it is hard to put any particulars in that framework. And, somehow, in this season dictating the loss of near and far visions for the future, I can comprehend this new idea of mystical hope more easily.

Mystical hope contrasts in these ways:

1. Mystical hope is not tied to a good outcome, to the future. It lives a life of its own, seemingly without reference to external circumstances and conditions.

2. It has something to do with presence—not a future good outcome, but the immediate experience of being met, held in communion, by something intimately at hand.

It bears fruit within us at the psychological level in the sensations of strength, joy, and satisfaction: an “unbearable lightness of being.” But mysteriously, rather than deriving these gifts from outward expectations being met, it seems to produce them from within. . .( Adapted from Cynthia Bourgeault, Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God (Cowley Publications: 2001), 3, 5, 9-10, 17, 20, 42.)

3. God-with-us-now hope is rooted in an awareness of God’s Presence with us each day, offering us comfort and peace, strength for the day and resilience for whatever comes our way. In this grounding hope, we entrust the future to the One who holds our hand and walks with us into the unknown. Reality is not just me and the virus. Reality is me and God and the virus.

How can I cultivate mystical hope today? What helps me recognize the Presence of God in this NOW?

Stay Open. Go Slow.

As a spiritual director, I have the privilege of listening to the stories of many thoughtful people throughout the course of each month. Together, we look for God at work in their worlds. However, seeing God can become a challenge when pandemic panic makes most of us want to close in or run away.

Stay open. Go slow. This is a practice a tired young mom and I created together as we talked about how to watch for God as she sought to work full time at home and care for her two young girls. Later that evening, her “open and slow” eyes observed a female cardinal tending a nest in her gazebo. Her “open and slow” heart received it as evidence that God saw her in the daily burden of all her hard work and nurturing. Being seen brought mystical hope and deep comfort.

Stay open. Go slow. This practice allowed a dad who had been consumed by pandemic related work adjustments to begin to reconnect with himself and God. He moved his office to the covered front porch where he was surrounded by green and birdsong. Both his creativity at work and his life outside of the same were restored as he opened to God as Creator and an active Source in this strange now

Stay open. Go slow. These became “watch words” for another young mom, working from home and trading off childcare with her husband who was doing the same, as they both begin to plan for a move several states away. She posted these words on a window near her desk as she sought to remember that her over-full reality did not just include herself and a million impossible tasks, but also a God who was inviting her to share the load every step of the way so that her burden could become something closer to “easy and light.”

A few days later, I was amazed to see these same words (open and slow) used to describe the kind of nature videos we can watch to calm ourselves during this unimaginable storm.

“Immersing oneself in a natural landscape yields the most restorative effects, says Dr. Hasbach, but there are several ways to connect to nature and all can be beneficial. In a yearlong study, the researchers found that exposing inmates to nature videos during their one-hour recreation period yielded a 26% reduction of violent outbursts….

Less direct experiences, like looking out the window at a squirrel in a tree or tending houseplants, may not be as immersive as going for a walk in the woods, but researchers have found these activities can still offer benefits. Even vicarious experiences, such as watching a video panning over sprawling mountains or plains, or listening to recorded sounds of waves crashing on the beach, have been found to alleviate stress.…

Those of us who are currently self-confining to our homes might be able to tap into those same benefits, Dr. Hasbach says. She suggests seeking out images or footage with wide-open spaces, no humans or built environments visible, and slower scenes with minimal animal conflict or drama – all characteristics of the nature videos most often requested by the inmates.” (https://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/2020/0410/Nature-is-a-balm.-Even-when-you-can-t-leave-home)

Count losses and blessings.

Nurture a new kind of hope.

Stay open. Go slow.

May we all experience more of God in the midst of this pandemic.

All stories re-told with permission.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Lynda

    YES!!!! Thank you, Janet.

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