Anderson Cooper closed the CNN News town hall he co-hosted tonight with Dr. Sanjay Gupta by reading a poem by Brother Richard Hendrick, OSF (Capuchin), of County Donegal in Ireland. It’s titled “Lockdown”; it has been widely circulated on the internet; and it offered a hopeful note at the end of a two-hour program on the COVID-19 pandemic. In the video above, you can hear Pastor Lee Seese of Mount Baker Park Presbyterian Church in Seattle reading it aloud in his back yard.
(Seattle is a coronavirus hotspot, and this is one of a series of “backyard preacher” videos that Pastor Seese began after the city went into lockdown and services at MBPPC went on hiatus. It’s one of many workarounds that pastors and parish priests have initiated to communicate with their parishioners during the crisis. Here’s another, recorded at the 9 a.m. Mass at Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in Cedar Lake, Ind.)
Brother Richard is a a priest-friar of the Irish branch of the Capuchin Franciscan Order and guardian of the Ards Friary and Retreat Centre in County Donegal. He posted “Lockdown” to Facebook on March 13. It begins:
Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
Even though Brother Richard worked in a reference to St. Francis’ home in Assisi — “They say that in the streets of Assisi / People are singing to each other / across the empty squares” — when I saw it shared on Facebook, I had a real Zen moment, one of those little flashes of clarity when you’re fully paying attention and you’re totally in the moment.
Stands to reason. Brother Richard’s focus with the Irish Capuchins has been on synthesizing mindfulness and the Christian contemplative tradition. While mindfulness is a Buddhist concept involving “openness, curiosity, and acceptance,” to quote Psychology Today, he acknowledges it’s “the word of the moment,” but he adds, “its ancient place in the Christian contemplative tradition is often unrecognised.” For what it’s worth, I think his poem on the coronavirus outbreak is squarely in both traditions. Among others:
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
Like so much of what I have experienced of the Catholic spiritual traditions, “Lockdown” ends with a call to action:
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,
Not much I can add to that.
Nor would I want to if I could. You can read the whole thing HERE, where Brother Richard first posted it on Facebook.