The Coronavirus has changed our lives, in ways great and small. Wyoming used to be known as the “home town” with very long streets. But, the virus changed all that. We are now suspicious about going next door, let alone down the street. I won’t belabor the anxieties we now feel, but I will share a famous quote:
“Fear is contagious, so also is hope.”
What is important at this time of pandemic paranoia is not just to practice social distance, but also to practice spiritual community. The most famous advocate of this was Viktor Frankl. He spent years in Nazi concentration camps and never knew if his wife was still alive. But, he would “commune” with her in his own way. He called it “kything”—being spiritually together with someone far away. Dr. Frankl survived the lonely camps and, afterwards, wrote a significant answer to his persistent question: “Why don’t people who are suffering commit suicide?” His book, Man’s Search for Meaning, explores our deep longing for purpose even when we feel our efforts are in vain.
In these weeks of “social distancing,” it is vital to find ways that our spirits can be together. When people attend worship, it is a time of sharing—with rituals, concerns, joys, study, and prayer. And, some religions emphasize the importance of a solitary time, time spent ALONE WITH GOD. As Rabbi Nachman wrote: “May it be my custom to go outdoors each day, among all trees and grasses, among all growing things. And, there may I be alone to talk with the One I belong to.”
Each religion finds its way to encourage an encounter with God.
For Christians, there is careful study of the scripture and time, alone, in prayer. For Jews, there is the strong practice of “Mitzvah” or doing good deeds for others, privately, because these goodnesses are just between “you and God.” And, for all Muslims, there is the obligation to pray five times a day, no matter where you are.
To be alone WITH GOD is vital to honest spirituality. Yet those times of solitary faith are intended to bring us closer to others. So, even if we’re far away, we are close at heart. The corona virus can isolate us or it can lead us to a deeper awareness of our spiritual connections. These examples are at our finger-tips. We just have to remember we can:
1. Pray for others, just because their need rests on our hearts.
2. Go through a ritual at home that speaks of a faith beyond us.
3. Listen to music or sing it because it calls us to a spiritual place.
4. Focus on sacred symbols—perhaps a candle, an icon, a cross.
5. Study the sacred texts with our hearts and our minds.
6. Take a walk and notice the world God has made.
There are many ways we can feel at one spiritually because the path has been prepared for us. The connection of others who practice just being with God brings us closer to each other. And, that practice begins in our own hearts and minds.
Social distancing doesn’t have to be a curse. It can be a new calling to spiritual nearness, to be “alone” with others who cast their human uncertainties onto the certainty of God. SABBATH by Marcia Falk Three generations back My family had only To light a candle And the world parted. Today, Friday afternoon, I disconnect clocks and phones. When night fills my house With passages, I begin saving My life.
O God, Help us find our way to You. For, You are our beginning and You will be our end. Teach us to savor simple moments: the feel of sunlight, the flow of water, the song of birds. When material possessions control our lives, and fill us with a sadness we cannot name, Help us remember: the best things in life are not things. In our being and in our doing, breathe through our souls…again.
The Rev. Dr. Sally Palmer lives in Laramie and leads the On Sacred Ground team for WIN.