Yesterday, my wife and I decided to walk through our neighborhood as the sun was beginning to set. While the streets in our town, like in most communities across our country, are desolate due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus, being able to take in the fresh air, see the budding of flowers and trees, and sharing in pleasantries with those who crossed our paths during our walk was beneficial not just to our emotional and physical health, but to our spiritual health as well.
Most of us in the U.S. are still in a sense of shock at how quickly our lives have changed in such a short time as the spread of the coronavirus has impacted our lives in every possible way. From the closure of restaurants, movie theaters, and public event spaces to the mandated ordinances which require individuals to be six feet apart when in public, to even how in just a matter of weeks, toilet paper has become a rare commodity, our lives have been radically changed because of this virus.
As a minister in the Christian faith tradition and as a chaplain in the professional healthcare industry where I work with patients from various faith traditions, it’s a challenge to be a spiritual presence to others when we too are trying to find meaning for something which cannot be explained.
But there are ways in which we can create spiritual connectivity not just to build a firmer foundation when it comes to our mental health, but find a connection with something greater than ourselves.
Particularly in the hospital environments where I serve which are the epicenter of local outbreaks, I am noticing how patients and medical staff are finding ways to turn or return to their religious and spiritual roots to get them through the challenges they are facing. From staff asking for prayers before the beginning of their shift to the increase in requests from patients who want to see us as chaplains or are seeking spiritual resources, all of us, regardless of how we see the spiritual divine, are seeking something to hold onto right now that’s bigger than this virus.
For some, it’s reading sacred texts, making time for prayer, and taking part in virtual worship services that allow individuals to connect with something firm when everything else seems to be in chaos. For those of the Abrahamic Religions (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity), one example is studying sacred texts and reading the stories of exiled peoples which bring a connection to shared suffering while finding the will to overcome it. For those from eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism), it may be studying spiritual practices such as meditation that help them center themselves through this global pandemic.
Regardless of one’s own spiritual beliefs, many are finding ways to find a spiritual connection in this chaos. Or as theologian Henri Nouwen writes, be reminded “the spiritual life does not remove us from the world but leads us deeper into it.”
For those who may not come from a spiritual tradition that is anchored in traditional religion, there are other ways to connect spiritually and find purpose and meaning during this pandemic. Through daily activities such as journaling, yoga, meditation, coloring, and disconnecting from the news and spending time in nature, we as individuals can find purpose, comfort, and meaning even though we are going through difficult and challenging times. And sometimes it can happen through our relationships with others.
While ordinances from the federal and state governments have mandated the physical distance individuals are to stay apart, we are social creatures and during this pandemic, we don’t have to lose contact with one another even if we are required to be at least six feet from one another.
For many, video chat services such as Zoom, Skype, and Facetime are ways families and friends can see and check-in with each other. And with the postal services still operating, writing a handwritten letter or sending a card is a great way to connect with others when physical closeness is not possible.
Additionally, times such as these (especially if we are confined to working from home) are also great opportunities to re-connect with those who are important to us with whom we have either lost touch or just have been too busy to talk with recently. These conversations are especially important for those whom we know live alone or have limited family connections.
And our actions can help us create spiritual connections, especially actions that benefit others. For some, it could be offering neighbors the opportunity to pick up their groceries if they have are at greater risk by leaving their home. Or it could be helping them do some spring yard work (as long as you maintain physical distance and are not putting each other at risk) that we can find purpose through service.
There are also other ways to find spiritual connectivity through participating in a community response. Right now, organizations need support to provide care to those who are affected or those taking care of those with COVID-19. For some, contacting local organizations which provide support to all those impacted by this virus and finding a way to volunteer (if possible) or through providing a financial gift is a way to make a difference that may seem insignificant, but can profoundly make an impact.
Unfortunately, we don’t know what will happen, or even how long we as a society will have to endure this virus and all that comes with it. And there will be many things we will learn that we cannot control during this time. After all, as the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu puts it, “If you want everything, you first have to give everything up.” Learning to let go of what we cannot control just in itself is a spiritual practice.
But the more we can remind ourselves that despite the uncertainty, compassion is still being shared, and purpose and meaning can still be discovered, the more comfortable we will become in recognizing that despite this challenging experience, we too can find purpose and meaning in a time we least expected it.