Yesterday, I went on a run through my small town. With the gyms closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, many of my neighbors and fellow community residents have been outside, especially since the weather is nicer. But while in the past I could pass a few feet from others walking in the opposite direction and offer a wave or a smile, now when I see someone coming in my direction and they see me, we both go out of our way to try to avoid passing one another too closely.
Our entire global community is in the midst of a pandemic that has affected every way of life.
On a social level, it has limited the ways we recreationally gather with restaurants, concerts, movies, and sporting events being canceled or closed. But on a deeper level, it has put our jobs at risk and caused us to live in fear of contracting the virus. And unfortunately for many, it has also resulted in grief from those who’ve lost family members who have died from this virus.
As a part-time hospital chaplain, I have seen the devastation COVID-19 has taken on individuals physically, mentally, and spiritually. A month ago when I showed up for my weekly hospital shift I saw empty hospital beds and units set up in preparation of having COVID-19 patients; now I show up and all of those beds are occupied with intubated patients behind sealed doors with family members on the outside calling us desperately wondering how their loved one is doing.
However, it’s not only in the hospital where I see how this virus is affecting others. For many of my congregation members, I have seen the fear they have as they practice social distancing while at the same time, deal with the isolation and disconnect from not being able to worship in person with those who are part of our church. And on a personal level, I also worry about my family members who are older or who have health issues, knowing how COVID-19 more severely affects these populations.
Regardless of where we may be emotionally and spirituality, if we haven’t lost someone from this virus and are not dealing with unexpected grief from it, we certainly are dealing with a fear of the uncertainty, which for many results in feeling anger about a world that has changed so rapidly in only a few short months.
Once this pandemic becomes a reduced threat in our lives through the development of a vaccine or herd immunity, two things are certain. First, the economic and social culture of our country and our world will be altered because of this pandemic causing further disparages socially, economically, and politically. Second, the pandemic will have inflicted emotional and spiritual injury on us as individuals, and it will be a long journey to recover from these injuries.
But until this happens, there are moments of temporary respite that can help us as we navigate this uncertainty and bring some comfort to us emotionally and spiritually.
From an emotional standpoint, we need to remind ourselves that what we face now is something we aren’t facing alone. We need to allow ourselves to grieve and to be angry, while reminding ourselves it’s okay to be afraid, to cry, and let the circumstances be our excuse for accepting that we don’t have to have our lives in order.
And from a spiritual point of view, certainly, we can find spiritual support through scripture, meditation, prayer, or virtual worship that can help sustain our faith. Much like our biblical ancestors who endured hardships as a community, we too as a community will eventually come through this wilderness journey.
It’s also okay to allow ourselves to question God’s presence in this pandemic, why it happened, and—wherever we may be on our spiritual journey—to cry out to God to guide us through this challenging time, even if it has been some time since we’ve talked with God.
“Faith is a footbridge that you don’t know will hold you up over the chasm until you’re forced to walk out onto it,” writes theologian and author Nicholas Wolterstorff.
Even though some of the practices of social distancing will be here to stay, there will come a time that our community will recover economically and socially from this pandemic. Our gyms will eventually re-open, our towns will once again have farmer’s markets and county fairs, and there will be a time again we can walk or jog past someone else without purposefully trying to avoid them.
But just as we were introduced to this pandemic as a community, we will need to seek emotional and spiritual healing as a community.
From practices and people to help us express our emotional feelings and spiritual ponderings, to advocating for improved care for others, this pandemic can also lead us to recognize something greater: we can find healing from it together as a community, no matter how devastating it has been in our lives.
As a community, no matter the continued uncertainty we will experience in the coming weeks and months, we do know there will come a time when this too shall pass, and hopefully, through a common effort, it will lead us to find emotional healing, spiritual purpose, and allow us to connect with others when we least expect it. With compassion, we can recognize the commonality we all share in getting through this pandemic together.