Lent in the time of coronavirus: Embracing my humanity

As many of us have seen the exponential spread of coronavirus cases and begun to “shelter-in-place,” I have been reflecting on how this Lenten season is truly forcing me to confront my own humanity, in some very sobering ways.

Just a few weeks ago, I was leading our church’s Ash Wednesday service, declaring over everyone, from toddlers to seniors: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

And as terrifying, disorienting, isolating, and triggering as this crisis has been, I have personally been reflecting on how this Lenten season is forcing me to acknowledge that I am simply human- not more, not less.

As I observe Lent in the time of coronavirus, I am confronted with these truths:

· I am mortal. Despite the ways that technology may make us think we are beyond death, I am sobered by the reality that none of us- regardless of what nation we come from, how much is in our bank account, whether we are famous or anonymous, or how old we are– can escape our own mortality. As a healthy, 30 something year old woman with a great amount of privilege, education, and resources, I know that I have many luxuries that allow me to avoid sickness and death more than other. Yet at the end of the day, the whole globe is confronted with the terrifying reality that all of us are mortal. Every single one of us. It’s remarkable that something as small as a virus- invisible to the eye- can remind the entire world of that.

· I am sinful. While I have been quick in this season to point figures- at our administration, at nonchalant people who are making irresponsible choices, at Big Pharma, at our capitalistic system, at our privatized health care system, at “those greedy, hoarding people,” or whatever force is bothering me today — I can’t escape the reality that I too, participate in both sinful choices and systems. My compulsions towards hoarding has been exposed. My tendency to be anxious, paranoid, and judgmental comes up daily. My ability to be compassionate to those closest to me- especially my very own husband- has been tested. My temptation to protect myself and my family over everyone else comes up daily. And as much as I want to believe that I am one of the “good ones”- working toward justice, equity, inclusion, and resources for all people- I still struggle every day with pursuing the common good and living a life of self-giving love rather than self-protection.

· I have limits. As an Enneagram 3, who puts the majority of my energy into being productive and crossing things off of to-do lists, this season of “shelter-in-place” has reminded me that part of what it means to be human is to have limits. I will not be as productive as I want to be. I will not be able to focus all my attention on the work I need to do. I will not always do the dishes right away. I will not always take a shower after working out. I will eat microwaveable burritos and ice cream instead of a salad. I will not always treat my husband and my kids the way that I want to. And in the midst of my limitations, I am working on how to show grace to myself and to others, to slow down, to view this time as a sacred Sabbath time- of returning to what is most important, generously loving those around me and being present to the moment at hand.

· I am part of the whole. In the face of physical distancing and isolation, I am being reminded now, more than ever, how much my life is connected to the lives of others. I am reminded that my own health and the health our communities is intertwined. I am reminded that choices that I make, with my time and resources, affects others, and vice versa. I am reminded of the Biblical truth of manna- that we are meant to have our daily bread, not more and not less, and that there is no such thing as “individual choices” in these times. Quite literally, I need others to survive.

In the midst of these realization, I am hoping to practice disciplines that help me to embrace my humanity and help me to let go of the need to be more than human, as well as the temptation to live as less than human.

Here are a few things that I’m practicing for the health of my soul:

· Getting outside. Being in nature reminds me of how small I am. While at the park the other day, I was reminded that while the world can feel chaotic, the sun still shines, the grass still grows, the wind still blows, and Creation continues to speak. Many have talked about how this crisis is allowing the earth to experience some respite from our overconsumption, and I hope that we will pay better attention to what the earth may be teaching us in these times.

· Connecting with friends and family daily. I’ve been way more intentional to connect with family and friends during this time and it’s been a surprise gift. I facilitated a Zoom call with some of my closest friends to celebrate a birthday. I set up a family meeting with my parents and siblings + spouses to check in and connect. My older daughter is getting to Facetime various friends throughout the day. In these times, we need each other more than ever, and meaningful connections, even via technology, can ease my soul.

· Practicing gratitude and confession daily via Daily Examen. While this is normally a daily practice for me, it’s gotten lost these past couple weeks due to all the chaos. I am hoping to restore this daily practice as a chance to see the consolations and desolations of each day, and to also acknowledge the ways that I chose out of my humanity each day. Though the world moves like mad, God is still faithful, and choosing to acknowledge the glimpses of faithfulness is important for my soul. Here are some questions I’m asking.

· Setting times to disconnect from social media. Embracing limits means setting boundaries on the information I have access to. While social media can be a gift in times like these, it can also be overwhelming and paralyzing. I am setting times in the day when I just leave my phone on my bed for several hours, rather than always holding it or having it next to me. And the times when I’ve taken breaks from social media have really helped me.

· Taking deep breaths and exercising my body. Of course, staying healthy in these times is imperative for all of us. But in the face o the respiratory symptoms of coronavirus, I’m being reminded of the importance of slowing down to take deep breaths, to feel our lungs fill with air, to release breath back into the world, and to remember what gives us life and what makes us human. I am trying to exercise regularly, to keep stewarding this body that I am given, and to keep pursuing health and strength in these times.

While these times may be trying for us all, I am grateful for the space that many of us are experiencing, to remember what it really means to be human. To be human is not just about consumption, acquisition, and securing our future. It is more than our work, it is more than our possessions, it is more than material things. We are being forced to remember the breath in our lungs, the earth we’ve been called to steward, and the people we’ve been called to love. May we not forget.

In closing, here is a poem from a Franciscan Brother, which has spoken to me deeply:

Lockdown — Fr. Richard Hendrick
Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
They say in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighborhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today, Churches, Synagogues, Mosques, and Temples
are preparing to welcome and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbors in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To Love.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,

Co-Pastor @bethelcommunitysl | Director of Advocacy @fphayward | pastor, activist, writer | married to @eubanksme | co-author of @lentenlament | she/her

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