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Spiritual Practices for Strange Times

Spiritual Practices for Strange Times

by Rev. Dr. Sarah Johnson on March 19, 2020

“Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the living of these days, for the living of these days.”  

Hymn, God of Grace and God of Glory

 

My friend and colleague, Carol Harston is a pastor in Kentucky. She is also the mother of three darling boys. This morning, her youngest, Walt, was having a hard day. Curled up in the living room recliner by the television, tears rolling down his cheeks, he wailed, “I want to watch corona virus!” 

Trying not to laugh, Carol responded, “Wait, what? You want to watch corona virus? Honey, do you think the corona virus is a T.V. show??”

I had to laugh too. Clearly, the Corona virus is not a television show but a very real and very scary reality for hundreds of millions of people—Dallasites, Americans and others world-wide. Many are sick and many others are dying. Unless the situation changes dramatically, more people will face a similar fate, including those we know and love. My heart breaks listening to the stories of doctors in Italy who are now forced to make the medical and ethical choice of which persons in their care live or die. As Americans, we are kidding ourselves if we think we are immune to a future with that kind of horrible reality.

And yet, I felt like I could somewhat relate to Walt’s confusion. After all, as I try to stay informed and do my part by staying home and steering clear of others, I also find myself getting addicted to the news cycle, the unfolding drama, and the never-ending flow of information pouring into my email, television and cell phone. At times I feel like I am binging season five, episode twelve of Corona Virus 2020. And. I. Just. Can’t. Stop. Watching.

It made me wonder, while I strive to paying attention, caring for myself and for others, what do I want (if not the twenty-four-hour news cycle) to shape my days as a person of faith?

 

Moving Away from Panic and Toward Peace

Father Jim Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor at Large of America Magazine, is one of my favorite and most trusted sources for spiritual wisdom. Earlier this week he gave an online talk, What can Christians Do in the Time of Corona Virus, and wrote a subsequent article, “Faith in the Time of the Corona Virus.” that are fantastic and well worth your time.

In each piece, he points out that while there are very real reasons to be concerned, “panic and fear are not from God. Calm and hope are.” As we are discerning and sorting through the various emotions that bubble up in these stressful times, we can trust the things that give us peace, tranquility, and comfort are connecting us to God. There is a reason that Jesus says repeatedly and often, “Be not afraid.” At times, anxiety and panic feel useful, they feel productive. If you have ever spent any period worrying, you know anxiety keeps your heart and mind full of activity—wondering, projecting, paralyzing over-thinking, frantically moving around—but ultimately, it does not serve us. As author Jodi Picoult writes in Sing You Home, “Anxiety's like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn't get you very far.”

If you find yourself in the space of too much worry or fear. Try to halt your thinking. Take a deep breath. Stay in the present and remind yourself of God’s presence with you. Maybe even identify a short phrase of scripture to repeat. I like, “Do not fear, for I am with you” from Isiah 41.

 

Start and End your Day with a Spiritual Practice

Now that most of us staying home, working from home, parenting from home, educating our children from home, many of the rituals that ground our lives are missing. In this new reality, life can feel like one endless day, each hour bleeding into the next. Life without those familiar rituals and rhythms is often exhausting. As I climbed into bed the other night, I felt like I had run a marathon in a single day. 

In this season, develop or hold onto some of the rituals of your day. Pour and drink your morning coffee. If you are at your office at a certain hour, maybe consider holding to that time at home. I also find that it is also helpful to develop some rituals around my spiritual life to ground me and offer God’s grace at the beginning and end of the day.

 

In the morning, take five minutes to light a candle and offer prayers for those that come to your heart. You can practice this alone, with a friend or partner, or as a family. As Rev. Mark Brainerd reminded us on PHPC’s Thursday morning Facebook Live prayer service, lighting a candle is a good reminder of the steadfastness of God’s presence with us in all things. 

At the close of the day, spend a few minutes naming or writing down the things from today that you are most grateful for and least grateful for. St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, identified this practice as the Daily Examen, a brief practice of giving thanks to God and discerning those things where God is giving us life. These kinds of practices not only give a steadying form to our days, they “fill up our spiritual cups,” so to speak.

 

Disengage from your Devices for a Period

One sage piece of advice that I now live by came from Duke Divinity School professor Kate Bowler. Reflecting on her times in the hospital Kate joked, “Nothing good happens between 9pm and 7am.” She noticed that these were times when her mind tended to wander and worry, and that trusting her inner dialogue during these moments was unwise.

Similarly, I find late at night or early in the morning are times when I don’t make good decisions, I am not on solid footing, and I cannot trust my inner voice. This also means these are times when I try and avoid accessing technology and social media. Even as technology helps us with much needed connection in this time of social distancing, place boundaries around when and how often you are checking in on your devices. Take breaks without your phone or access to the next news update.

 

Get Outside

While we are now restricted to staying away from our work, school, and all places of business we can still go outside. There are plenty of studies that show the psychological benefits of being outdoors including the prevention or reduction of stress, improved self-esteem, confidence and creativity, and spiritual growth. If you are able, take a run or a walk in the neighborhood, play in your yard, find a moment to sit outside, or open a window. Spending time in God’s creation is good for our bodies and our souls.

 

Celebrate the Little Things

This evening, I took my dog on a long walk—without my cell phone. At one point, I stopped for a moment to stretch. I reached down to touch my toes and as I came back up, I noticed the trunk of the tree in front of me had all these cute tiny snails, hundreds of them, inching their way up the tree trunk. There were also new buds forming on the ends of the branches, and tiny pink flowers were emerging. The whole thing was a small picture of the abundance of God’s creation.

There is power in recognizing and giving thanks for the little things in life. This week, pay attention to these things. If I take the time, I find life is full of tiny miracles and moments worth celebrating. Whether it is the perfect cup of coffee, the smile of a child, the smell of the fresh air or the spring flowers, I find God showing up everywhere. 

As the circumstances of the Corona virus continue to develop, it is becoming increasingly clear that this season is a marathon not a sprint. We have not days but weeks and months ahead of us. I wonder what practices are giving you peace and spiritual grounding in these strange days? 

Please feel free to share them in the comments or over email. It is always good to hear from you!

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