Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Giving Thanks in a Pandemic

My family has been spared the worst of this pandemic, and for that I am grateful. I know it could have been very different. I would be writing in a different key if I was grieving the loss of a loved one due to COVID-19. A lot of people are suffering terribly because of the coronavirus. Tens of thousands of Americans have died of the disease, usually alone and isolated from their loved ones. There are many families in grief.

People are suffering financially because of the closure of American businesses and governors’ stay-at-home orders. People have lost their jobs and incomes. Some are threatened with losing their housing as a result. People are lining up at food banks because they do not have enough to eat. People are angry. Mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression are on the rise, not to mention the run-of-the-mill types of neuroses that are exasperated when families are shut up together. Things are not good for many people.

I have not experienced any of that personally, except insofar as I empathize with those who are suffering. My safety is due to the fact that I live in a remote neck of the woods. I reside in a small town of a thousand people scattered over one hundred square miles of forest. According to the state statistics there has been only one case of the coronavirus in our town and no deaths. Similar statistics are repeated in surrounding towns. The angel of death has not come near our door.

There are lesser effects of the shut-down, such as social isolation, which we have experienced. We miss our kids, grandkids, church and friends. But we have adapted by seeing people and talking to them outside from a masked distance. I feel guilty for saying this, but for me the advantages of the pandemic restrictions have outweighed the disadvantages.

Weeks ago I shared in a podcast about the opportunity that these pandemic restrictions give us to pay attention to our spiritual lives. We are prevented from many of our regular activities, so why not use the time to develop our spiritual lives? Well, I took my own advice. I have focused on spiritual practices including meditation, mindfulness, spiritual reading, writing and recording episodes of my vlog and podcast.

My writings and recordings have been a form of spiritual journaling for me – a way for me to express myself in a deeper and more thoughtful manner. They have also put me in contact with people all over the world who have read my books and blogs or listened to my podcast or videos. Their encouraging words to me – and mine to them - has turned this online ministry into an extended spiritual community for me. While I am cut off from my local community I have gained a global community.

The time spent at home away from people has deepened my appreciation for silence and solitude. It is like being on an extended spiritual retreat. I am never bored. I avoid the television. I have used these weeks to pay attention to the Kingdom of God within me and around me – to “practice the presence of God,” as Brother Lawrence called it. I have become increasingly conscious of the Oneness that is always here. The pandemic has given me time to integrate this awareness into my daily life.

This has also caused me to empathize with those who are suffering. As Paul says, “If one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it.” There are family members and church friends who are suffering from illnesses unrelated to the coronavirus, and whose suffering is made worse by the social restrictions. People we love are seriously ill, and some have died. This prompts prayer, sorrow, empathy, and compassion.

We try to help others. My wife helps by baking bread and fixing meals for homebound people, sending countless cards, making phone calls, and distributing her little works of art around the community. In addition to being her bread-delivery driver and donating financially, I help by using my gifts - sharing my words of hope and peace and grace through my audio and video devotions. This has deepened my sense of the unity of humankind, the natural world, and God.

It is too much to say I am thankful for the pandemic. I wish it never happened, and I pray for it to end. But I am thankful in the pandemic. As the apostle instructs, “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” I am thankful for those workers on the front lives risking their lives. I am grateful for the opportunities that this pandemic has opened up for all of us. I am grateful for the love I have seen demonstrated by ordinary people.

If you have not been practicing a compassionate and intentional “pandemic spiritualty” these last few weeks, I encourage you to begin soon before you miss out. See what God has in store for you. You will be grateful. Gratitude is probably the best medicine for these difficult and uncertain times. As Paul says elsewhere, “nothing [not even a pandemic] can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”