Learnings from Covid-19, part 1
We have been going through exceptionally hard and unusual times recently. We have been all challenged in many ways by the outbreak of Covid-19 and feel the need to evaluate its costly impact on our lives not only in terms of devastation it brings but also in terms of its hidden potential. Faith and Praxis has asked its core associates about the most important learnings for our organisations from the situation generated by Covid-19. Here is what they say:
There are changes in organizations that are brought about by decisions made from within the organization itself. But there are other times when changes are triggered by circumstances and only later do we realize what happened.
My congregation was founded in France in 1817. Between 1901 and 1904, several laws forced most religious congregations to leave France. At that time, that situation was experienced as an unexpected tragedy. Today, we see that this meant the international expansion of the congregation, which was in danger of remaining confined to France and few other countries.
Covid-19 is already causing major changes in international organizations. It is up to us that this be experienced as a tragedy or as a great opportunity to be more faithful to the mission of the organization.
Emili Turù Rofes FMS, Director of Faith and Praxis
For me, the most important lesson from the crisis generated by Covid-19 for our organizations has been FLEXIBILITY; in a few days we had to undo agendas, programs, plans, disorganize ourselves completely to organize ourselves again in a totally different way. The image that best describes this learning is that of a reed.
It has not always been easy, especially when the future is not yet clear, when uncertainty is still on our horizon. That is why the malleability of the reed must help us to reinvent ourselves, sometimes we will have to be a basket capable of welcoming and other times a roof that has to shelter, adapt to reality and know how to make the best use of the reed according to the needs.
Marian Murcia HFB, Associate
For everybody, and especially for congregational leaders, one common experience at this time of the coronavirus is having lost control of questions related to space (where), to time (when), and to human interactions (with whom). Suddenly, because of the uncertainty of the present moment, we have become unable to plan those types of things even for the very short-term future. We find ourselves confined while we were used to travel all over the world. We are spending days and days with the same people, sometimes in a reduced space. We have lost power.
A learning from all this: maybe the only wise thing we need to do is to consent to it, and to be present to the present, with a deep contemplative attention, with compassion.
These verses of the Letter to the Romans seem to have been written for us today:22-25 “All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it is not only around us; it is within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We are also feeling the birth pangs… That is why waiting does not diminish us any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, do not see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.”
Piluca Benavente MSOLA, Associate
One of the most important learnings for me during this Coronavirus pandemic with its enforced lockdown came in the form of a drawing with a message. It pictured a person sitting in the lotus position, meditating or contemplating. The accompanying text read: “If you can’t go outside, go inside.” It seems to me that this time is an invitation to all of us to become more contemplative, more discerning, if our organisations are to truly reach out to, and be effective and relevant in our world today. In these Easter days, we need to put aside our busyness, our desire to get back to ‘normal’ and realise that this is a call from the Spirit to enter into a discernment over and over again, reading the signs of these times that are all around us, and realign ourselves with the Risen Lord who is the true way and the truth and the life, as we seek to extend God’s reign here and now.
Joseph McKee FMS, Associate
Covid-19 has given me time to take a daily walk. On the walk, I have the opportunity to enjoy and to savour the spectacular beauty of my local area. This is being helped by unusually good Spring weather, which is show-casing the best of the Irish countryside; in the budding of trees and hedges, native flowers, all set against a symphony of song from a rich variety of birds. Of particular joy for me, is the mystical singing of the cuckoo, who visits our shores at this time, each year from Central and Southern Africa. (No borders, emigration controls, or quarantine) In this context, I find myself chiming with the exuberance of the great Jesuit poet, Hopkins, when he proclaims that ‘the world is charged with the grandeur of God’.
Therefore, tuning into the news of Covid-19 each day, and the stories of suffering, pain and death both nationally and globally is a deeply upsetting experience. This leaves me with a sense of helplessness, impotence and near despair, in the face of the scale of the chaos and disruption, which the virus is causing. It is very hard to reconcile this experience of Covid-19, with the experience of a ‘world charged with the glory of God’.
As I reflect on all this, I ask myself ‘what is the learning for me, and for our organisations, as we live through Covid-19?
In my search, I have found myself drawn to the story of Genesis chapter one. The writer sets out his stall in the opening two verses:
‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, and God’s spirit hovered over the water’ (Gen.1.1-2)
Our current experience of Covid-19 could well be described in the imagery of Genesis 1: a ‘formless void’, as well, as the ‘dark deep’. The word ‘Genesis’ literally means ‘becoming’, with connotations of something in process, of an uncertain future, of possibilities. In this context, we can rightly ask: ‘what is becoming of us, and of our organisations, as we adjust to being grounded, and brought to a semi state of ‘standstill’ due to the impact of the virus’.
What can emerge from our personal experience, and our shared global experience of ‘the formless void’? What about ‘the darkness of the deep,’ a state or place we usually do our best to avoid.
Yet, it is good to remind ourselves from the opening verses of Genesis, that God ‘hovered’ over the primal waters of the deep. It is from ‘the waters of the deep’ that the ordered world emerged, and that God brought forth new life from the ‘formless void’.
Accepting that God is ‘hovering’ over us during our current crisis, as we take our place in the evolving story of the universe, I believe that at this time, God is inviting us, both individually, and collectively in our organisations, to enter into and share in a process of ‘hovering’, through contemplation and prayer. It is a time of waiting and wondering, reminiscent of Mary’s experience of pregnancy.
‘Hovering’ is a term associated with the way a mother hen ‘broods’ or sits on her eggs to bring forth new life. In this hatching process, the chicks emerge from shells, shells that ‘cocooned’ them in their gestation period. There is a sense that globally and cosmically, through this Covid 19 time, something new is breaking through the shells of our old ways of seeing and doing things, the shells of our institutional structures that are no longer fit for purpose. What is emerging is a new consciousness, ‘a new way of thinking about human beings, life, society, and our relationship with nature’ L. Si (n.47).
This new consciousness is an integrated, interconnected consciousness of God at the heart of everything. It is about our participation as co-creators with God, and our relationality as sharers in the same life giving and generative processes of nature.
From this perspective, living with, and through the chaos of Covid 19, is the experience of labour pains, a time of hope and of great creative potential. The ‘hovering’ space is a time to share our sense of disorientation, chaos and not knowing. Through this sharing, we allow God’s creative impulse to move through us, to bring forth new dreams, new possibilities, new ways of always ‘becoming’. As we share this journey in and through the deep, as co -creators with God, individually, and together in our organisations, we will find ways to be better contributors to God’s healing presence in the world.
Frances Heery, Associate