I went half a block and passed some teenagers on bicycles who said quite loudly and with evident pride: Man, we’ve got to find somebody and smoke some weed. I don’t know what followed that, but it struck me as disturbing in our quaint little neighborhood. It was the attempt of these two, at least for me to hear, of dealing with solitude: the isolation that COVID-19 has brought to us.
It makes me wonder what we do with this time. What are you doing these days? If you are under a stay-at-home order or not, what are you doing during these days? I will admit that it has been a challenging transition to come back to the United States where it’s very easy to be pulled back into the world of work. But I am doing my best to remain in the reality and the spirit of my sabbatical (which is still happening, by the way!).
If work (or substitute school if you are of the younger variety) offers us one thing it is order. There is a set time we get up and go to work. There are certain things that we do throughout the day. There are conversations we need to have and people we need to check in on. Work offers us a sense of order, even if we don’t like it. And it is a good thing for us, because our lives need order. They need to be structured towards something fruitful. So, question 1 is this: what is your time ordered toward these days?
Prayer seems to always be the first thing to go. When life gets distracting and other things are more pressing, prayer is almost always the first thing to go. It’s the first thing to go because it seems to lack practical consequences that make a difference on our immediate circumstances. But prayer is a gesture of dependence. And if this virus has taught us anything it is that it is beyond our control: all we can do is follow instructions and hope that those in the medical field can find an appropriate response. But for the vast majority of us, we are left in the position of begging: begging that people are responsible; begging that our loved ones are kept safe and healthy; begging that we can find a reason for all that is happening to us and around us. For this reason, prayer should be the first thing to stay. So, question 2 is this: how has your prayer life been these days?
Loneliness is a battle for every human being. I’m coming to the end of The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene (and if the basketballs ever stop bouncing outside my house I will finish it...my apologies for that aside). In it, the lead character, Scobie, says this from a place of despair:
No man surely was less alone with his wife upstairs and his mistress little more than five hundred yards away up the hill, and yet it was loneliness that seated itself like a companion who doesn’t need to speak. It seemed to him that he had never been so alone before.Sometimes it’s not the absence of people that makes us lonely, it is the absence of hope. Scobie is alone because he sees no way out of the dramatic situation he has gotten himself into. Hope is not just the expectation of what is to come, it the ability to acknowledge that even now, in whatever mess we may be in or our world may be in, we hope in a present Presence. There is Someone who cares about our destiny, about our hearts. So, question 3 is this: in what or whom do you place your hope?
Friends, isolation does not mean loneliness and being together does not imply companionship. What we need is something greater, something that emerges from within us and finds its ultimate expression (in time) in communal life. Escaping our circumstances through drugs or binge-watching or porn or constant texting is not an adequate response to what our hearts are made for. So let’s look for order, prayer and hope in our lives today. Maybe somewhere in there we can find ourselves becoming more human and more holy.