Global solidarity in a global pandemic

The gift of physical sight is a two-edged sword: We can see many things at once in our field of vision. But we can also be very easily distracted by what we see in front of us. It’s hard to focus.

When we use only our ears, however, our hearing brings us more quickly into focus – on what is important and what needs to be done. When we listen, we have to right away clear out all the other noise and chatter into a singularity of mind.

Yes, the blind beggar in the Gospel story receives his sight[1]. That is the obvious miracle. But just as great a ‘miracle’ is that the blind man first had to hear Jesus. He had to focus on Jesus’ voice that told him what to do. 

He had to listen to Jesus’ instruction to go to the Pool of Siloam and wash. The Pool of Siloam – a relatively recent archeological find in Jerusalem – was located in a public space. It was not someone’s private swimming pool. It didn’t belong for the exclusive use of a wealthy and privileged individual. 

It was a place everyone could access, a place people went in that part of the city for fresh drinking water, a place also recognized for ritual bathing. The Pool of Siloam was designed for everyone to use, including the blind beggars of the city.

For his healing, the blind man had to go outside the sphere of his own private world. He had to go beyond himself, so to speak, into a public place.

Besides the obvious physical threat, the greatest danger during this global pandemic is to become completely turned in on oneself. Perhaps you, too, in your social isolation practices have started to feel a bit of ‘cabin fever’ by now. It’s been a few days. The initial novelty is starting to wear off. Our restlessness is fed by fear and despair. How long will this last? We may feel within our hearts a growing and relentless sense of foreboding. And this will undo us if not checked. 

The solution to this inner dis-ease is not to violate the protocols of social distancing and the instructions of the authorities. But it is to find ways, creative ways, to focus on another, and their needs.

I was moved by the heartfelt image from Italy, of an eighty-year-old woman on her birthday standing in her tiny apartment kitchen. Her window was wide open. Tears were streaming down her face as she listened to her neighbours sing to her in unison, “Happy Birthday”. The chorus of voices echoed in the narrow open spaces between the multileveled rowhouse neighborhood. 

As always but even more today, people are still starving. Not just starving for food and for certain paper products. But starving for love, starving to belong, starving for shelter, starving for justice.

May God grant us the courage to focus mind and heart, and first listen. Listen to and focus on the voice calling us to let ourselves be loved. Listen to and focus on the voice calling us to go beyond ourselves to the other, in loving deeds.

Indeed, we are experiencing a global solidarity in the midst of this public health crisis. Even in the suffering of this experience, may God grant us courage to find new ways of affirming our solidarity in the life, the love and being of Christ.

[1]John 9:1-11

Social distancing and religious gathering

Every Friday night I walk through the core of the small town close to where I live. And, every Friday night these restaurants—a popular Indian restaurant, a British-style pub and pizza parlor—are jammed full. Week after week, it never fails. It impresses upon me the common, human need for social interaction.

Here, far off the beaten track, the COVID-19 threat in early March is still far from reality. At the time of this writing there is not (yet) one confirmed case in the Ottawa area. And yet, last week when I walked my route by these restaurant windows and looked in, they were nearly empty. 

Clearly for my community the anticipation and fear of the pandemic has taken hold in our imagination. These fears are fueled by images in the media of empty planes and check-in lines at airports. St Mark’s Square in Venice, normally crowded with tourists, is empty. Classrooms in big name educational institutions are empty.

“Social distancing” is the catch-phrase. As a human community we are now becoming practiced in what it looks and what it feels like to be ‘distant’ from each other in the public sphere. But sports stadiums and convention venues are not the only places considered verboten during a pandemic. Places for religious gatherings are suffering the same scrutiny. Though, perhaps, religious people are used to seeing empty pews for some time now. 

In our social distancing during the COVID19 pandemic we are properly encouraged to inform ourselves of the risks and take the necessary precautions. Best practices in worship and community life together are emphasized especially for the most vulnerable to this disease.

People who like to meditate are generally drawn to spaces and places with others that embody some ‘distance’ and detachment. We close our eyes. We refrain from touching each other. We repeat the mantra not as a voiced, liturgical, chant but interiorly, individually. We who meditate and pray in silence and stillness are practiced somewhat in the art of non-interaction in contrast to the dominant extroversion of our culture. We say little and keep our distance as we sit in silence and stillness together.

Even in our solitude, however, we are reminded in the tradition of John Main not to neglect the coming together in faith even as we pray in silence. Yes, the twice daily meditation times to which we aspire belong normally to our private, individual work. Yet, the importance of the regular meditation group builds the community of love. 

We are not meant to be alone on this journey. In meeting with others we resist allowing our fear to overwhelm us. We trust in ‘God with us’ and in the revelation of God in Christ who speaks often in the Gospels the words of promise: ‘Do not be afraid’. We are called, on the contemplative path, to reassure others in the same promise. (See pastoral letter from bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, link below)

During this time of social distancing we pray with all who are affected by this disease. God be with those who grieve, are ill, isolated and afraid, and the many people involved in medical and emergency care.

This may also be a good time to try an online meditation group. On the front page of the website click on ‘Online Meditation’ to find a group suited for you. The first time I participated with an online group it felt strange to see on my computer screen the faces of several meditators praying in silence with me. It took some time and patience for me to adjust.

On the one hand, I was physically by myself. But I was not alone. I was still virtually connected with others far away from me. Talk about social distance. Yet, accountability and responsibility to each other are still felt values in the online meditation experience. There may times in our lives when a virtual group is the best option for remaining connected.

In this time of social distancing, I pray in the love of Christ Jesus who overcame the boundaries of fear and social stigma. I pray in the love of Christ who reached out to touch and heal the blind man, the leper, the diseased, and who placed himself, even to death on a cross, in the public sphere. I pray in the love of Christ whose life and love extends to our times and public places, into our hearts and into our very own relationships and communities.

The Peace of Christ be with you all,