In the United States over 70 million are in lockdown under the government’s orders. Across the world, government officials are pleading with people to stay home. We all have at least a tinge of anger at the students and adults who have crowded the beaches, some of whom having now returned to colleges and universities are testing positive for coronavirus and are infecting others.
“Stay inside!” officials are pleading. “Stop going to the beach, to the park, to the bar….”
In his letter to the Cistercian communities, the Cistercian Abbot General Fr. Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori, reflects on our difficulty in heading this call to stop flinging ourselves into work or pleasure: “One stops only if one is stopped. To stop oneself freely has become almost impossible in contemporary western culture, which is globalized, for that matter. One does not even really stop on vacations. Only unpleasant setbacks manage to stop us in our breathless race to take ever greater advantage of life, of time, often also of other persons. Now, however, an unpleasant setback like an epidemic has stopped almost all of us. Our projects and plans have been annihilated, until we do not know when.”
In Psalm 46 God himself asks us to “be still,” we could say “to shelter in place in the inner shrine of our heart.” This invitation is a healing word to a people constantly running, entertaining ourselves, always throwing ourselves toward some future! It is a word of meaning. A call to pull ourselves away from the superfluous to what is of true value.
Anxiety can make it hard to stop. I mean, this is a “hard stop.” We aren’t just changing directions or occupations or locations. We’re not taking a breather before throwing ourselves anew into life as we have known it. The world has stopped. Activities, the economy, political life, trips, entertainments, sports have stopped, as well as public religious life. It is when we are forced to stop that we discover how we still run inside. That we were holding on to something that suddenly doesn’t appear to be quite as important as it was. Yet to drop the dramatic investment we’ve created in it, is to admit that we don’t know who we are without it. As long as we are running inside, in our thoughts and fears and feelings and demands, we will not stay home unless there is a guard at the door. And we certainly will not stay “home” in the inner shrine of our heart.
“Be still,” God says, “and know that I am God” (Psalm 46).
Fr. Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori reflects further: “God asks us to keep ourselves still; he does not impose it. He wants us to stop before him and remain freely, by choice, that is, with love. He does not stop us like the police who arrest a fugitive delinquent. He wants us to stop as one stops before a beloved person, or how one stops before the tender beauty of a newborn who sleeps, or at a sunset or a work of art that fill us with wonder and silence. God asks us to stop in recognition that, for us, his presence fills the whole universe, is the most important thing in life, which nothing can exceed. To stop before God means to recognize that his presence fills the instant and thus fully satisfies our heart, in whatever circumstance and condition we find ourselves.”
When we get to the other side of this pandemic, and we will, this newfound silence of soul in the overwhelming power of divine presence is what we should keep alive always. A sense of our frailty. Of our child-like dependence on our Creator. With the “capacity to renounce what is superfluous to safeguard what is more profound and true in us and among us, with this faith that our life is not in our hands but in the hands of God.”
As we struggle through the anxiety of not knowing the consequences of this pandemic in our own lives and in our society, we are not left alone, as a child is not left alone by a good parent. “God enters into our trials, he suffers them with us and for us, to the point of death on the Cross. Thus he reveals to us that our life, in trial as also in consolation, has an infinitely greater meaning than the resolution of the current peril. The true peril that looms over our life is not the threat of death, but the possibility of living it without meaning, of living it without being directed toward a greater fullness of life and toward a greater salvation than health.”
So as you shelter in place, stay home, or perhaps put your own life at risk on the front lines of essential services and medical care, let these words of God bring your heart peace. “Be still, and know that I am God, exalted over nations, exalted over earth!” (Psalm 46) This pandemic is not more powerful than God who holds us all in the palm of his hand. Having “outward stillness” imposed on us through “lockdowns” gives us the opportunity to search for the tiny flickering lights of inner stillness, the relieved sighing of our exhausted hearts that we are not alone, that the darkness has never and will never overcome the divine plan at work in the world’s history. “A time of trial can make people harsher or more sensitive, more indifferent or more compassionate. Fundamentally, all depends on the love with which we live them out, and this above all is what Christ comes to grant us and to awaken in us with his presence. Any trial whatever comes and goes, but if we live it with love, the wound that the trial cuts into our lives will be able to remain open, like that on the Body of the Risen One, like an ever surging spring of compassion.”
Let us find through all of this, the love that will give us meaning, so that we will delight in being still and in cherishing what is of true value.
ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE? HERE ARE 5 WAYS TO GO DEEPER…
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