On Ash Wednesday we heard, “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.” I have spent time this Lent reflecting on that, and searching for its meaning. If you presume that it means we that we are nothing but dirt and lowly, it can be depressing to consider. But that is not what God is telling us and that is not what we need to focus on right now. Rev. Michael Rogers reflects, “that we are dust is a reminder that our lives are fragile, and that the lives and hearts of those around us are as well.” The world, each minute, is passing by. Everything is temporary. He also reminded me in this reflection of that saying a few years back: YOLO (you only live once). In this lens, “remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return” sounds like a warning, to get moving, to get off our seats and make the most of our lives. While somber, it is a call to action. I feel like I often write about this theme, but the reality is there. We continue to lose people every day to sudden accidents and, now, we are faced with a virus and panic. Now we feel frozen, unable to live because of warnings and fear, but maybe this is an opportunity.
It is interesting that I started writing this blog about 10 days ago, when the world looked very different than it does now. On Friday I spent the day saying goodbye to students I worked with for four years, not knowing if they will be returning, or having a graduation ceremony. It does not seem likely right now. I drove students to the airport over the weekend, unsure if I will see them again before August. I have stored belonging for students in my home, unsure when they will return for them.
Rev. Rogers ends with, “the spring, which can never be held back, is coming.” With Daylight Savings Time two weekends ago, we felt that. Things felt different. There was a sense that we were entering a new time, with rebirth and the potential for growing — crops, gardens and ourselves. What a difference a few days makes. Schools are closed, restaurants and stores are closing…albeit, hopefully, temporarily.
As I mentioned, I was struggling with “remember that you are dust.” It conflicts with messages like, “You are made out of comets and stars. Do not surround yourself with those that treat you like dirt and dust,” Noor Shirazie. If it is true that God wants me to not look at myself as dust (in terms of value), I need to be mindful of the people who do. Regretfully I think too often people leave the Catholic Church because of that feeling — that the Church is a place of judgment and condemnation. However, when I look at these cases, it is a certain priest or certain policy, not the entirety of the Church. The Church has room for everyone, whether a particular person or policy makes you feel unwelcome. Find a different Mass; please don’t give up on the Mass; please don’t lose faith, especially now.
Today I found Father Jim Chern’s homily for the Third Sunday of Lent. He tied together isolation, the current crisis and the story of the Samaritan Woman. She believed the labels attached to her and isolated herself. He reflects,
“That’s what isolation does to us (good thing for us to remember) we can zero in all that’s wrong with the world and all that’s wrong with us and our worlds….But the Gospel beautifully tells us what our hope is, where our hope is, who our hope is. The amazing, the good news today — He comes looking for us. He waits for us…He waits for the woman at the well, gently engages her in conversation, and lovingly restores her hope…
Now more than ever, we need to follow her example. Not allow ourselves to shut off, isolate and retreat. Not to give into fear, panic and anxiety, and instead look and see how Jesus seeks and waits for us…”
Find the people who do that…seek out the people who restore your hope…in God, and in the world. Maybe it is a deacon, maybe it is a friend, who knows a hug is more important right now than social isolation.
A friend recently started a Facebook page, sharing it with others. This group seeks to share St. Catherine de Vigri’s light with individuals, encouraging and inspiring one another to pursue their God given talents — wherever that is, in whatever capacity. It does so with defining or judgment on what it means — to be creative or fit into the group. I don’t post often, but I feel like I belong somewhere in the group because of its nature — welcoming, free of judgment, open and real. I really need that feeling right now. To me often the world is small and closed off, with doors being closed. Trying and being rejected takes a lot out of you. I found the reality is that these struggles and the dramas of middle school and high school, with fitting in and being included and accepted, and the feeling of needing to change to be part of the crowd, really do not go away. This is true at work, outside of work. Now, with a virus and warnings to isolate, it feels like is being compounded.
My solution in the last few months has been to run. I still hate running by the way, but it has helped me tremendously. There are great t-shirts which put it best, “I don’t run to win races. Nor do I run to get places. I run to escape this world. I run to find peace with myself. I run to feel strong. I run to be free.” Find what works for you.
I also find it in the pew of my Church. I really love that place and the community that surrounds me. Whether we have a conversation or just share a smile during mass or even a nod, I feel like I belong. I feel friendship surrounding me – without words. I feel lost now as I watch Sunday services being limited, especially with Easter approaching. It feels like “social distancing” is taking away my life line.
Keeping it simple is the mantra of a very close friend who believes it and seeks it. The reality is that it is not easy to live. I have re-focused myself on this, seeking out scripture:
1 Thessalonians 4:11 “…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.”
Ecclesiastes 4:6 “Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.”
Galatians 1:10 “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
Living simply and quietly has always been God’s message; He made it cool before coronavirus. “I value the friend who for me finds time on his calendar, but I cherish the friend who for me does not consult his calendar,” Robert Brault. Powerful truth. Who lives this way? I cannot explain it well, but that is Church to me. It is always there. I spend time there decorating, arranging, preparing. It is peaceful. Is it weird that the Church feels like a friend? A trusted, reliable, welcoming space that always fits me in. The Church is my rock, when the rest of the world rejects or is too busy. What happens when the Church doors are closed? I keep telling myself that while the physical doors are closed, the reality is that the Church is always open. It is, however, my greatest fear right now. The idea that the Church doors may be locked on Easter morning is my biggest struggle in this.
There is also a freak out factor I see in people. I admit the toilet paper shortages and hoarding of food have me confused and angry. Rather than distancing, I am working with individuals, trying every single day, to make someone else feel OK. Working at a college, there is opportunity for me. Having nieces and nephews, there is opportunity for me. Wherever you are, there is opportunity. In the new norm of “social distancing,” this is important.
The coronavirus has given us a new reality for the time being. Use this time wisely. Remember we are dust, and to dust we will return, but this was always true – well before the coronavirus.
Pope Francis last week tweeted “We are called to rediscover what truly matters, what we really need, what helps us to live well and, at the same time, to identify what is secondary and that which we can easily do without.” Keep it simple. Find purpose, not fear. Like the Samaritan women, let Jesus come close, even while you fear everyone else – whether you fear judgment or a virus. This is what keeps me going in these times. As we timidly go to the well like the Samaritan woman, alone, because of whatever fear, Jesus is waiting there.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” (Maya Angelou). Acceptance and support are really important right now. Six feet of distance is not that far, unless we make it feel that way. I will end with my favorite picture currently on social media.