The poet Qoheleth tells us there is a season for everything and a time for every matter under heaven.
Fear or anxiety did not make the list in Ecclesiastes chapter three, but wisdom and science confirm that fear has its time, its season.
For the last several months, and particularly the last several weeks, our awareness and anxiety have grown regarding COVID-19.
The World Health Organization tells us about the pandemic. The president tells us of the state of the nation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us what we can do to prevent it.
It is enough to make one want to run for cover and hide. I encourage you to be different. Now is not the season for absence or hiding, but a time to be present – albeit in different, more creative ways.
Please hear me: This doesn’t mean downplaying the significance of the virus or disregarding public health guidelines, but it does mean finding ways to remain safely in community with others in this time of fear and uncertainty.
- Remember to be present to self.
While it is important to be informed, staying constantly connected to media and to anxious conversations will only exacerbate fear.
I encourage you to find time throughout the day to put down your phone and disconnect from all the other voices.
Take time to be present to yourself and allow time just to be. Take time to unplug and breath. When you sigh, it is often your body’s way of saying you are not getting enough air.
Take a breath, a deep one, be present and find the gratitude in being who you are as someone lovingly created in the image of God. Parker Palmer reminds us “self-care is not selfish.”
- Be present to others.
With talks of quarantines and staying away from crowds, it is very easy to isolate in unhealthy ways.
While it may not be wise to be in large groups or confined with others in close quarters, loneliness is not healthy either.
Think deliberately about how you can be present to others, even as you follow the guidance of scientists and public health officials.
To hear a voice and see a face and share a laughter is a generous gift. Sending a note or phoning a loved one can be life giving.
As larger public gatherings are discouraged for now, we can use technology to engage with others, even as we practice social distancing to help reduce the spread and negative impact of the virus.
Remember, you need not be alone. Community occurs in sharing. Just as there is a time to disconnect, it is also important to know when and how to connect.
- Be present to the sacred.
It is easy to see only the profane and broken. Virus outbreaks, sicknesses and deaths are a reality, but it is not the only reality.
The earth shimmers with the transcendent; too, too often we pass right by it. To paraphrase a line in one of Alice Walker’s novels, “I think it makes God mad to walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”
When I slow down enough to catch a glimpse of patches of green moss growing in the crack of a sidewalk, or to hear the murmuring chorus of spring peepers at night, perhaps it is a gentle, holy nudge by God saying, “See this, hear this.”
We are not abandoned to go it alone. Sacredness blooms in the many acts of kindness and compassion happening all around us. Let us partner in such acts.
Please know this current time of upheaval and uncertainty need not be an existential threat, nor something you must bear alone. We face this season together. Take a breath. Be.
Interim Dean at McAfee School of Theology of Mercer University and Director of Development at McAfee School of Theology and College of Professional Advancement.