Conversatio Divina

Part 1 of 1

Practices in the Time of a Pandemic

Jean Nevills

In this quiet reframing in a season of pandemic, Jean Nevills gently guides us to dwell on what is beautiful, good, and praiseworthy. A sudden pause in our day-to-day noise and activity may lead us into isolation, or into engaging solitude and retreat. We hope the latter for you and the world—even in times of global crises.

01.  Morning Meditation

The sun rose this morning in a pale-yellow sky behind the faithful stand of trees at the edge of our lower field. Its rays reach in through the windows of my living room—and the windows of my soul—and bids me to awaken all the more to what still is beautiful.

The earth continues to turn. The stars hold their places in space, and the planets’ orbits are steady in their positions and paths. On this tiny patch of ground on which I live, buds have burst open on the trees, grass rolls out new green at my feet, and squirrels scurry, chattering and chasing each other.

In this mandated Pause, while all movement in travel, entertainment, work, business, education, even whole cities halt, I wonder if this is a divine invitation to humility. Certainly, as social distancing is more and more stringent, we human beings are exiled from our lives as usual. Worldwide poverty moves into my neighborhood. We are ordered by our governor to withdraw further into ever more solitary lives.

St. Isaac of Syria records that an elder was asked “How can someone acquire humility?” The elder offered some guidance and closed his remarks saying, “In sum: exile, poverty, and a solitary life, all of these give birth to humility and cleanse the heart.”An excerpt from Daily Readings with St. Isaac of Syria, introduced and edited by A.M. Allchin ; translated by Sebastian Brock. (Springfield, Ill.:Templegate, 1989), pg. 70 Exile. Poverty. Solitary life. Humility.

It is humbling for us humans who are accustomed to ruling over the earth and others, to be halted by a microbe. In contrast to the squirrels’ hurry and scurry—which has been our normal pace—we are now made to lie low, to be still, to acknowledge our finitude. I wonder, as we collectively acknowledge that we are NOT gods, if we can “be still and know” the ineffable and unnamable One.

The Corrymeela Community’s morning prayer includes their intention, “We make room for the unexpected; May we find wisdom and life in the unexpected.” Morning prayer from Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community by Padraig O’Tuama. (Canterbury Press, August 22, 2017), pg. While the unexpected disease has aggressively moved in, we are learning how frighteningly slow we’ve been to make room for it. What wisdom may we find; what life?

I am grateful for the witness of Nature, that she continues faithfully morning by morning proclaiming God’s handiwork. And for the witness of the Psalms and prayers that have carried other generations through plagues and pestilence. They do call to mind the ancient memory that God IS, and is not far off; that the Lord is my Shepherd and therefore I have all that I need. Even now.

And that consoles me. Yes, I am confronted by the equally true reality that my body is mortal and finite. I do not know the hour of my death, but that was true even before the outbreak of a global pandemic. From the Reality of God’s shepherding sufficiency and grace I will once again choose to live. How shall I orient myself in this hour for Life, to live this moment and every moment? I will myself to be attentive in this day to what I can do, to work and prayer, to ponder even as I reach toward hopefulness: “I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” Still, and again, amen.

02.  Suggestions for Spiritual Practices

In my mother’s kitchen pantry, there were always a few items we could go to when the refrigerator seemed a little vacant, or even if it was full when nothing there could really satisfy our particular hunger.

When you are feeling a spiritual or emotional hunger in a moment, what is your “go-to” that is not merely distraction, but truly lifts up your downcast soul? Is it music? physical exercise? a song? a passage of scripture? laughing with a friend? poetry? a novel? an old hymn? Go to your “pantry” and feast on the goodness you have stored away with God.

Spiritual practices can by grace lead to Holy Encounter. While complying with Stay-at-home orders, the following practices are offered to alleviate a sense of disconnection, ease the tension of uncertainty, and approach the Life that is lived from a Divine Center. Kelly, Thomas. A Testament of Devotion. (San Francisco, Harper & Brothers, 1941), pg.3

Be attentive in this day to what you can do. While your usual ways of serving might be limited for now, let your acts of mercy be primarily in your home.

For one day, let humility guide you into courteous respect, solicitude, and tender love for others by fasting from the use of sarcasm, ridicule, teasing and having the last word.

Choose to practice loving Listening:

When a loved one voices fear, frustration, disappointment, or pain, notice your own reaction or response.
Are you problem solving or accepting what they are saying?
Are you trying to cheer them up or be a witness to their experience?
Are you left avoiding their pain or being deepened by what is shared? An excerpt from Daily Readings with St. Isaac of Syria, introduced and edited by A.M. Allchin ; translated by Sebastian Brock. (Springfield, Ill.:Templegate, 1989), pg. 70

Talk honestly with God about what you are noticing; ask for what you need. Ask for what they need.

In moments of anxiety, reach toward hopefulness by praying: “I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”

Everything is different now. Make a list of all the things you now miss that a month ago you took for granted, and offer your gratitude for them to God. Make a list of the people taken for granted, and offer your gratitude for them to God—then check in with them by email, phone or text. Or for those of us who remember how, send a thank you note by mail.

Early morning. Sit quietly and watch the light begin to brighten the sky. Notice it move through the trees. After a time, taking steady breaths, slowly rise and whether you’re inside or outside, walk directly into a patch of light. Inhale and feel the light on your face. Be still and know the unnamable One. Inhale and receive God’s peace. As you exhale whisper your gratitude to God.

Afternoon. Go for a walk. Feel yourself move in rhythm with your breathing. Allow your senses to focus on details—sunlight on a branch, the shimmering surface of a puddle, moss growing on a stone—and touch the things that have captured your attention. Allow yourself to feel wonder about them.

Choose a favorite tree or plant, or a patch of grass, and though you may not readily detect anything, over the next couple of days or weeks watch it grow.

Close your eyes and know that though you may not readily detect anything, you are still growing, that God is shepherding you through these days. Allow yourself to feel the ineffable mystery of God and whisper aloud, “The Lord is my Shepherd…. I lack nothing….”

Evening. Sit quietly outside. Allow your breath and the air you are breathing to become one. Keep breathing slowly until you feel, with each breath, the spaciousness of God.

Think about the things that are used to define you.

Feel what you do with your days and say, “I am more than my job.”
Feel where you sleep your nights and say, “I am more than where I live.”
Feel who you love and say, “I am more than my relationships.”
Feel all you have suffered and say, “I am more than my history.”
Feel your very name and say, “I am more than my name.” Nepo, Mark. The Book of Awakening. Gift edition first published in 2011 by Conari Press, an imprint of Red Wheel / Weiser, LLC, San Francisco, CA . Copyright © 2000 by Mark Nepo. Introduction to gift edition © 2011 by Mark Nepo
Feel your breath enter and leave your body, and with your heart say, “I am a never ceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s good universe.” Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy, Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. (HarperCollins, NY. March 24, 1988), pg. 211

While social-distancing is wisely the universal and global practice for the duration of this pandemic, I know I’m not alone. The invisible and always present Jesus, is still closer than my next breath.