“Age discrimination” is a negative idea in most contexts. Would an alternative expression, such as “age discriminating,” serve to describe a current response to the coronavirus whereby those of older years are to remain in their homes? None of us wants to be the object of discrimination, but most of us are willing to be praised for discriminating between better and less good when it comes to clothing, food, art, and most other articles we use.
For all of us, whether home-bound or providing necessary services such as preparing food and delivering goods, can do ourselves and one another the favor of discriminating between an attitude of unwanted obligation and that of being a contributor to reducing the number of casualties to the pandemic. All of us can participate in a positive way, by honestly and reasonably taking appropriate responsibility for not only what we do, but for our manner of doing it.
If we cannot go out, and must depend upon others, it will become more difficult for us if we see ourselves as becoming burdens for others rather than if we think of ourselves as doing our part to avoid overloading the medical care units at a time when the cases of Covid-19 are increasing each day. If we are able to move about and engage in limited but necessary business including shopping for shut-ins as well as for ourselves, we could think about how “unfair” it is, or we could see ourselves as we really are: care-givers on behalf of the civic community as a whole, not just for those with whom we live or those in particular whom we serve.
It is not too early during the coronavirus epidemic to be discriminating between truly good outcomes and merely wishful thoughts. The care provided by healthcare workers, manifests the best of human solidarity at a time when self-preservation is so powerful a desire. So too are the generous offers of practical help for those who cannot meet their own needs. The virus is an illness of the body, while our thoughts and deeds arise from our healthy spirits.
Although many forms of entertainment have suddenly been curtailed, we might discover that we find more real joy in making direct personal contact with individuals during this time than from the former options we had of attending many public events and general social gatherings. Discriminating between the good of all the habitual ways we found meaning for our lives before we were advised strongly to avoid crowds, and the good of finding peace and joy living in the present reality, is a gift and a grace available to all. As we go through our days exercising a bit of reflection, we learn which things that really satisfy our hearts, even when thoughts and images might suggest that we could only be happy when everything returns to how it was before.
Where is God in all that seems to be diminishing our lives? Look for love where it is manifested in ordinary people like ourselves, and there is God. We can also be discriminating observers of the good wherever we find it, and there too is God.
There is no such word in the dictionary as “stopless.” It is a concept-holder here, referring to events and persons that we cannot stop. Of ourselves, we cannot stop the viral epidemic, and we cannot make the larger community pull together in taking the means to get us safely through to a new time of normalcy. However, no virus can stop us, individually and collectively, from fulfilling our purpose in life. It will help in the present time to reflect on this truth.
Each of us has dealt with anxieties about the unfamiliar and unknown before, and we can do so now, even if we go back and forth many times from thoughts that elicit fear to honest, reasonable thoughts and inspirations that return us to our peaceful center where our spirit and The Spirit are at home. The first and most important immediate helpful response to fear is companionship. How many times we have given reassurance to others, children and adults, primarily by being present with them, and secondarily by our words and actions.
When we are alone in the sense of no other humans immediately accessible to us, we are not alone in an unconscious and uncaring universe. We exist because we are at every moment being created by Love. This is a statement of belief, one that each of us can fruitfully take and restate in our own way, if we take note of the effects upon us of even tentatively accepting the declaration. Just as we are willing to accept a fictional premise for the sake of enjoying a story, we can take the statement about loving presence as a tentative premise for the sake of noting how gracefully it resonates in our hearts.
No matter what the short and long-term consequences of COVID-19 might be for each of us, we cannot be stopped from maintaining our will to help one another as best we can. We all live within personal and societal limits of various kinds, but the ongoing desire to be of support to others is unlimited, no matter how small our capabilities might seem, and is the source of a priceless gift we can give each other according to our circumstances.
Fear and anxiety can diminish the gracious force within us that favors kindness, helpfulness and compassion, and can lead to withdrawal from live-giving initiatives and to a self-concern that does not bring us peace. We are under no obligation to take in more information than is helpful for making reasoned decisions. Out of concern for those with whom we live and work as well as for ourselves, we do well to read or hear only enough news about the epidemic to guide our decision-making. More than that is liable to prove counter-productive, and cause internal injury similar to that of someone who, instead of using only a drop of bleach to purify some water for cleaning household items, keeps adding more until the water becomes poisonous.
For us to continue best in these times as persons who cannot be stopped, we need to rely on the gracious Spirit of God always present with us.
Many of us are learning anew how important it is to emphasize things that we can do, now that there are so many that we cannot. Like an insect bite, a barking dog or unpleasant odor, we cannot help being bothered by the loss of certain formerly normal activities that have now become curtailed because of the viral epidemic. Allowing our attention to remain on all that is disagreeable has no benefits, whereas focusing our attention on those that are of interest and value to us diminishes our awareness of whatever might be annoying and directs our energies towards fulfilment. We cannot prevent all suffering, but we can choose to live as best we can, no matter what our personal and communal limitations might be.
For most of us, the struggle between what we can and what we cannot do is quite real, and there is no simple or single solution that fits any one of us, much less all of us. Some of us are already suffering significant losses, personally, socially and financially in addition to the disruption of many habitual ways of going about our formerly somewhat stable modes of living. No one can tell us what we should do to obtain the balance we want in an unstable environment. However, we can decide, on our own as well as with the help of others, to reflectively and with honesty, evaluate what we can do.
We will probably not find satisfaction if we try to find replacements for the events that we have lost with some that are equivalent. By consciously expanding our search for “can do” possibilities into such areas of our lives as purpose and motivations, deepest desires and perceived callings, graces and inspirations, we will surely become aware of the resilience and power for good that is within us.
Even in the headline news and the stories of losses and projected further dislocations to our lives, we can look for the thinly hidden, but very present indications of good people doing what they can to provide necessary services, aid those in need and give voice to painful realities in order to enliven compassion and decision-making on behalf of the common good. When we seek examples of what can be done, we will find them in the very places where, if our mind-set is on what we believe cannot be done, we would not recognize the gifts that are available to us.
As an exercise of true bias in favor of can versus cannot, making a mental or even a written list of what we can do might be pleasingly helpful. Let it be as open as possible, not censoring or eliminating any category of human activity, be it mental, physical, spiritual or of any kind that thought, memory and inspiration might provide. This can easily become a prayerful imaginative exercise, depending as it does on our spiritual orientations of honesty and of love for neighbor and for self. We can take a deep breath, and appreciate all the good that we can do for others and for ourselves right now, no matter how restricted our present circumstances might be.
We are the judges of which side wins the real-life contest of can versus cannot.
When they rolled the stone closed at the tomb where the dead body of Jesus was laid, no one, excepting his mother, had any understanding of the kind of life that was hidden within that tomb. After all, we bury or otherwise commit to the earth those who have died as a final acknowledgement of their death. However, there is another reality about death that is hidden from sight and our other physical senses, but knowable, and a part of our lived experience
We let go of those who have died, yet we have relationships with them, and even with some whom we have come to love (such as exceptionally good persons who have died) that range from talking to them to noticing their presence in people and events, as well as finding our thoughts and affections drawn to them. All these links are hidden from our senses, yet they have their felt effects, although those effects are not ours to initiate or cause.
Life that is hidden in circumstances that seem to be death, is ours to recognize in our present reality. If we look only for signs of threat, danger or mortal peril, we will see them, for they are readily available and sometimes are promoted as a means of manipulating our responses rather than providing us with the facts we need for making informed decisions. When we watch for indications of life, as people do when expecting new growth to come up from the ground in springtime, we become witnesses of goodness that transcends our capacities to originate.
Fear and anxiety about our health, our wealth or our loved ones are not in themselves forms of death, but they diminish our well-being when we do not seek healing. We need to find the gifts and graces that lie hidden when we experience distressful feelings. When our minds are occupied with a future that is out of our control and our spirits are consequently darkened, we can return to the present, and think about our values and orientation towards whatever is right and good. These hidden powers within that represent who we are, not just what we do, enable us to focus our energies on specific initiatives we might take, without denying the problems that trouble us. As with any leap of faith, once we decide on some action, negative emotions decrease.
The power to break free from a preoccupation with the darker side of life is hidden in the sense of invisible to sight, but wholly available to us when we choose to trust the interior movements of reflection, hope and prayer. However true the bad news might be, it is not the only truth. We are people of hope, a sense that there is quite literally “more than meets the eye” in the events that seem only to end in loss or death. We can look to the future with fear, which inhibits creativity in the present, or we can summon from within the power of hope, which opens our minds and hearts not only to inspirations but to the Source of life.
God is for many a hidden reality, but a saving one.
We might first imagine that in the title, Rocks should more properly be Knocks, or with a contemporary meaning of Rocks, we could think that Opportunity is so popular and relevant that we recognize it as quite praiseworthy. However, a third meaning is possible: metaphorical rocks that present us with favorable options.
The existence of “opportunity rocks” cannot be proven, but we can explore the concept to see whether some of the hard challenges and painful episodes of our lives, as we look at them now, have been occasions of positive changes in our attitudes and behavior. We might appreciate these rocks, acknowledging that we and others are the better because of how we dealt with specific adversities. For example, we might recall a time, and this could be quite recently, when a well-planned trip was cancelled. We could have complained and gone about our lives with a gloomy disposition, doing ourselves and everyone around us a disservice. Or, more likely, we moved on, thorough acceptance of an unchangeable reality, to creative ways of using the time and space that opened for us.
The difference between regretting what we have lost and doing what we can with whatever is available to us, is far more significant than we might think. Only upon reflection are we likely to see the excellence of the human qualities we have gracefully enacted. In choosing to adapt instead of wastefully using up our energy by airing our grievances with those around us, we have chosen to act responsibly, respectful of our place in the world in which all of us influence one another for better or for worse by how we deal with adversity.
Rocks can be annoying obstacles when they turn up in places where we do not want them, whether in a garden patch or on a sidewalk. We can kick at rocks or grumble about them, or we can move them aside and even make a wall or a border for a path. Rocks are neither good nor bad in themselves, as are many of the events that interfere with our habitual ways of acting. A specific rock becomes an opportunity not by its confrontive presence, but by our determination not to give in to anger, because we prefer doing whatever we can to complaining about what we cannot. We are affected, but not forced, to change our positive orientation towards life by the rocks that appear in our path. Sometimes, even painfully, we need to modify the route we are taking. At other times, we move the rocks to the side with little thought and proceed on our way. Whatever we decide to do, rocks present us with opportunities to act according to our values.
Some of the rocks in our lives are quite disruptive, more painful and with more long-lasting consequences than when we stub a bare toe on something hard. Opportunity is not the first thing that comes to mind at such times. The first right step might well be to pray for help so that we might deal with them in the best way we can.
Not many people would even think of calling 2020 a banner year as if these months past have been filled with extraordinarily good things. However, we might make it the year of choosing to enlist under the banner of transcendent values, making it a banner year of another kind. There is no flag with a distinctive design to symbolize those who share a union of minds and hearts focused on the common welfare, and there are no restrictions on entry for those who might wish to join with people of such ideals.
This is a year, not just several weeks, when the world in general, and all our communities down to the smallest local units, need people who make the basic, even radical decision, to live with and for others as of greater importance than primarily serving their own interests. Waving of banners is not a requirement, but deeds and words are essential that show respect and concern for those who are troubled, distressed and in want. Membership in the world-wide movement of being helpful is open to all without exclusion. However, those who would claim that they belong because of some perceived gain to themselves, but who do not fit the working description of living according to transcendent values of service to others, might need first to move past fear or unhealthy concern for self to recognizable performance of caring for others.
Since there are no monetary or other material rewards for giving freely of one’s time and energy to help where there are needs, what might be the motivations for such behavior? If we reflect on our experiences of doing what we can for someone or some group whether we were asked or not, we might recall an innate sense of peace or joy, even though we felt emotionally drained or otherwise worn down. We know that this is possible: a transcendent value moving us beyond, but not in denial of, our feelings and ordinary healthy desires for security, control, and affirmation by others.
Something more than can be explained by a human tendency to altruism is at work in the possibility we have of generating a banner year even while so much bad news surrounds us. Beyond the apparent bias in favor of life in the natural order, our more profound attraction towards reaching out in favor of others comes from what we call our hearts, our spirits or our deepest selves. We were made for this kind of behavior as an appropriate response to the gift of creation and life that we have received. We have literally been given these abilities without making any payment, and we have within us the graced capability of “paying it forward” to those in need of what we can offer. We do not do this at the expense of taking care of ourselves, for the best service we can offer to others arises from our freedom to choose, not a misguided compulsion.
The power for making this a banner year is, to no one’s surprise, Love.
The meaning of a home, and our feelings associated with the word, vary greatly according to our past experiences as well as in the present. We can think of a longed-for “home” as E.T. spoke the word, but also of mansions and mud-brick dwellings, condos and castles, houses in neighborhoods and tents in the streets. Some meet the essentials of an enclosed private space, others are the equivalents of a supermarket, with spaces for almost any activity. No two residences are the same when we consider the persons who live in them.
A home is not just a place to sleep, as is apparent for those who are incarcerated, out in the streets, in a refugee camp or travelling from place to place. Whatever we acknowledge as our home has different resonances for us depending upon our present circumstances. Our warmth of feelings at the word might be greatly diminished if we cannot leave our home, just as they might increase if we are unable to come home when we wish. Reflecting on our varied experiences of home enables us to acknowledge an aspect of our spirituality that is worth appreciating.
Besides material dwelling places, we might recognize that we are also “at home” within ourselves and with our values and our place in the world. Some days we are more at home with our behavior than on others. Just as most of us are glad to come home to a familiar space where we are relatively in control of what we do, so we find ourselves pleased and at home when we choose to favor thoughts and feelings that are complementary rather than disturbed and conflictual. No matter how small our physical home might be, it is ours to decide on what we keep and where we place our belongings according to our preferences. Within ourselves, we decide on the values we will keep, and those we will not. However, we are not limited as to the size of our aspirations and desires. And, in terms of the largeness of our hearts, growth and expansion are always possible, independent of physical conditions.
We can also reflect on the importance we give to caring for our interior home, which is uniquely ours. We choose who can enter, not through doors with double locks, but through an invisible screen of personal truth. It is ours to judge as acceptable or unacceptable for taking into our selves, whatever intellectual, emotional and spiritual content others might present, whether in person or through written, spoken or electronic means.
The home that is in our hearts is so sacred, that even God respects this aspect of our created nature and will not make a forced entry. However, unlike all other persons, God can walk in unannounced if we have implicitly allowed Love to have access to our innermost being. Just as gracious guests often bring a gift when they come, we are invariably given manifold gifts exactly suited to our needs when God enters our home.
When we come home, we will find God already there.
In speech, we can distinguish between two words that have different meanings, even though they are spelled the same. Without a written context for tears, we cannot know whether the subject is about ripping a piece of paper or someone crying. As a kind of amusement, anyone can play with various ways to use tears and tears, in which only a complete sentence will make certain what is meant in saying, for example, that someone tears up.
Some of our interior experiences, whether playful or serious, are even more complex, since we have the capability of holding two different or even opposed ideas together in a larger, unifying perspective. We know what it is like to respond with tears of sadness or anger to tears in relationships. More importantly, we can manage to mend tears in our bonds with one another precisely by first acknowledging the pain of such ruptures that is manifested in our bodies through our tears and runny noses. We are whole persons, who heal more quickly and act more wisely when we accept the information coming to us from our physical emotional variations, and procced in making decisions about what we will do.
Not all painful or annoying occurrences bring tears to our eyes, but, if we attend to the more subtle signs in our bodies such as tightening of muscles, especially in our faces, we have helpful information that suggests caution before acting. We want our responses to be freely chosen rather than mere reactions, and the means to obtaining this kind of reasonable, positive and effective behavior depends upon honest assessment of all relevant information, including our feelings, not just our thoughts.
If we tear a piece of cloth, the ripping sound is usually somewhat unpleasant, just as any tear in a relationship, no matter how small, is a disagreeable experience. Every disagreement evokes a similar feeling to that of ripping a page out of a book, no matter how justified the disagreement or reasonable the removal of a page might be. What we find upon reflection, is that not all such tears are reasons for guilt, but that when we admit the feeling, we can more readily judge correctly whether we require further action or are at peace and ready to move on to whatever is next.
One cause for what St. Ignatius calls “the gift of tears” is somewhat painful, but not anything we would want to miss or avoid unless we have to be clear-eyed in order to act: all those occasions when we deeply experience beauty and love. Ignatius could look up at the stars and appreciate so fully the creating love of such magnificence that his eyes filled with tears. This, and other thoughts that brought him intense joy, caused him to weep too much, so his physician warned him to limit these experiences or he would lose his sight.
We are not likely to receive too much consolation. Rather, there is every reason to accept the feelings of joy that come to us, sometimes with tears, when we look with open hearts at all God’s beautiful gifts around us and within us.
For all our caution about reducing the spread of the virus, we know that an unguarded moment might be all it takes for one of us to contract it. From a completely different, but not necessarily opposite perspective, our protection from the most substantial harm is best achieved by letting God have unguarded access to our thoughts and feelings about anything and everything. The more unguarded we are before God, the safer we are from choosing actions that could arise from harmful concepts, ideas, and images.
Anything that we keep as completely private, never shared with another person, is not necessarily wrong, but can sometimes indicate lost awareness of thoughts and ideas that become hidden even from us. Internal secrets can inadvertently, even without fault on our part, prevent growth, impede greater good, and make us less open to gifts of love that we would otherwise notice and accept.
Openness to God requires trust, just as does the sharing of sensitive information about one’s self with anyone else. It is one thing to say that we believe in an all-good God, but it is another to entrust our innermost thoughts and feelings to this Person. The benefits of trusting God appeal to our minds, but many of us have strong, often unconscious defenses, that keep some of our internal dialog, tendencies, and desires from being acknowledged even to ourselves, and therefore also God.
Unguarded sharing of the contents of our hearts and minds is not something we can simply choose at one time and then carry out habitually. Like a decision to take up regular exercise or regular prayer, we can choose to make a beginning, but we will then have to be deliberate about continuing until we build a habit of not censoring our thoughts and feelings in our relationship with God. Setting up a discipline regarding regular physical exercise or a diet is not easy for many of us, and we might go through whole-hearted starts and then half-hearted pauses in the process of obtaining the progress we desire. Establishing a consistent mode of being unguarded before God about anything that takes place within us, is not solely or even primarily ours to establish. Rather, inspiration and grace precede our efforts, once we recognize and acknowledge the invitation to be loved as we are, not as we might think we should be, or even as we might want to be.
We have good reason to keep up our guard in a threatening situation, whether it involves a person, an ideology, a disease, or any other created being. We have no strong reason for protecting ourselves from the source of truth and beauty and love. And yet we are cautious, knowing that among us, there can be misunderstandings even regarding love, and that almost anything that is inherently good can be manipulated by humans. However, the goodness of God can never be less than absolute, and the love of God never less than perfectly directed toward each of us exactly as we are at this moment.
“En Garde” is an appropriate command to be on the defensive at the beginning of a fencing match. “Unguard” is the proper way to relate with God.