With this being the first weekend of public masses it feels like a significant milestone on our journey out of lockdown. It is very likely that the children of this generation will become known as the children of the lockdown and it is an event that will be told to their children and their childrens' children. A worldwide pandemic leading to a global shutdown is really the stuff of movies that six months ago our minds could not have comprehended.
The way to gaining wisdom in our lives is not just to have experiences but to have reflected and learned from them. Otherwise they just get wasted. Some of life’s most valuable lessons come wrapped in very unattractive wrapping paper so much so that we just want to put them out of sight and never even open them up. There will be so many who will try to resist everything that that past months have been teaching us and try to get back to an old normal without ever asking if it worked for them in the first place, or if it was something they couldn’t even keep up with. For others it will have been a life changing experience that will have enriched their lives, allowed than to look at things differently, and even forced them unto a different path.
While Corona has been the teacher of our age what have we learned from her? In the Scriptures whenever Jesus fed the multitude he first got them to sit down. Up to this we were always standing, forever on the go, and dashboard dining was becoming the norm. Corona placed in into a position of enforced reflection where we had no option but to sit and simply be with ourselves. ‘To be or not to be’ was the age-old question posed by Hamlet and we had chosen not to be. We had become more human doers than human beings and had come to value ourselves and others in terms of how busy and productive we were rather than the kind of person we happened to be.
The lockdown came just a few weeks after Ash Wednesday. On that day many of us got ashes placed on out foreheads probably without giving it too much serious thought. It was meant to be a reminder that everything will one day turn to ashes and that nothing in this world is permanent. That’s fine as long as its thousands of years in the future but this year it was just two weeks away when the rug was pulled from under our feet. Almost everything we were so familiar with did turn to ashes. We will never be able to approach Ash Wednesday with the same attitude again. All our escape routes were closed off and there was nowhere to go but within. We were forced to be with ourselves, and many of us found that we weren’t too impressed with our own company. Where we shared lockdown with someone else lots of issues arose that may have been lying dormant and unspoken for years and they began screaming for attention. It’s no wonder that incidents of domestic violence rose so high because not everybody has the skills to handle conflict. Many who were appearance conscious were now buying ugly facemasks and nicely manicured nails were covered with surgical gloves. Where what I did and the role I played was important up to now suddenly most of us were out of work and the labels were no longer important.
What the lockdown revealed to so many was the bankruptcy of their own inner resources and that they had been running on empty for so long without ever knowing it. This was where so many began to really pray for the very first time and searches on Google for prayer and spirituality just shot through the roof. Likewise the number of people tuning into online masses and other religious services such as this has exceeded all expectations.
It is very likely that this pandemic will have heralded a pandemic awakening to deeper realities because never before did we realize that outer supports could be taken from us so fast. How that awakening will pan out and what form it will take may not be clear for many years. I would suspect that conversations about spirituality and such matters will now become the norm rather than the exception and that there will be a far greater openness to things of Spirit.
Finally, one of the great Irish story tellers and something of a mystic was John Moriarity who passed away some years back. He used to tell a story that seems so relevant to what we have all been through and in its simplicity it may be teaching us the essence of what Covid-19 has to say to us.
The story, set in the 19th century, concerns a group of explorers who were trecking through a forest somewhere in South America with the intention of meeting up with their ship on the coast. The expedition had hired a group of natives to help with carrying supplies and equipment. Every morning before setting off they would begin with ritual and dance. For days they made excellent progress until the day before coming close to their final stage there was the usual ritual but then no movement. All the workers just sat lazily around. Their leader was approached and asked why the sudden halt. He was told, ‘for days we worked hard, we travelled far and we travelled fast, we made great progress but this is the day when we need time for our souls to catch up.’
Nature certainly needed time to catch up and to begin breathing again. We too had probably passed ourselves by and perhaps Corona was affording us the time we badly needed for our souls to catch up as well.