Copy of email sent today to my spiritual director and posted here to provide a monthly update on themes we’ve been working on and my progress (or lack thereof). Lightly edited to fix obvious illiteracies.
Sr. __________ —
I hope all is well with you as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Debi and I have been self-quarantined at home since I got out of St. John’s on March 2, and day by day we’re settling into a sustainable routine at home and recuperating from last month’s adventures.
So far I haven’t found a workable “technological fix” for our spiritual direction sessions, but I haven’t given up hope on it. In the meantime I’m comfortable with putting our face-to-face sessions on hiatus for a while — until we have a clearer idea of what the future holds and check out a couple of ideas Debi has mentioned for communicating online. I’d like to resume our meetings later, but all of this is so new and so unexpected, I’m OK with taking a while to figure out what to do next. Let me know what you think.
In the meantime, I’m adjusting my spiritual practice to new circumstances.
Journaled a little about it. (Although not very much! I’m still sorting it out in my mind.) One post I headlined, “Can’t take communion in the time of coronavirus? Pray. Can’t go to church? Pray. Be persistent in prayer.” I’ll copy the link here,
… but the headline says everything I said in the journal, and says it better. No need for you to read any further!
(As usual, I’m emailing you largely because writing things out helps me organize my thoughts.)
And mostly my thoughts have centered around the same question — how to do church, especially the Eucharist, when we’re physically isolated. Our pastor is filling in nicely with videos of services on YouTube — something we hadn’t done before at Peace Lutheran — so Debi and I both feel connected to the parish. (I’ll attach a video file that shows Debi and me waving palm branches — well, an artificial plant that kind looks like a palm — and saying “Hosannah” that we sent in for Palm Sunday.) In another post I put it like this:
How do you do church when you can’t go to church? Before the COVID-19 outbreak came to town, I didn’t realize how much of my spiritual life centered on going to church. Now, after two weeks of “social distancing,” it’s causing me to reassess.
That reassessment led me to the same place as the first post: What do you do? You pray.
I’ll spare you my thoughts about the theology behind it, but I mentioned a couple of prayers that might be of interest. I’m trying to develop a daily prayer regimen that’s based partly on the Examen and partly on Luther’s daily prayers in the Small Catechism (which he wrote basically for the instruction of children when his own children were little and entirely omits all that pope-is-a-bad-dude rhetoric in the Large Catechism he wrote for clergy). Luther’s morning prayer is really quite nice:
In the morning, as soon as you get out of bed, you are to make the sign of the holy cross and say: “God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit watch over me. Amen.” Then, kneeling or standing, say the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you wish, you may in addition recite this little prayer as well:
“I give thanks to you, heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ your dear Son, that you have protected me through the night from all harm and danger. I ask that you would also protect me today from sin and all evil, so that my life and actions may please you. Into your hands I commend myself: my body, my soul, and all that is mine. Let your holy angel be with me, so that the wicked foe may have no power over me. Amen.”
After singing a hymn perhaps (for example, one on the Ten Commandments) or whatever else may serve your devotion, you are to go to your work joyfully.
I don’t do all of this. In fact I usually say my morning prayer when I’m half-awake! It’s all very similar to the way I pray the Examen — I’m sure St. Ignatius of Loyola would be horrified by the short-cuts I take with the spiritual exercises.
In fact I can’t help but imagine Luther and St. Ignatius — who I am sure agreed on very little in life — seeing what I do with their respective exercises and saying together, in unison, with one voice, “no no no, that’s not what we meant at all!” But I feel like saying these prayers — or trying to remember the gist of them — somehow puts me in touch with the communion of saints … adds my voice to the chorus..
Another prayer that comes to me quite often these days is sometimes called the “Prayer of Good Courage” and sometimes the Holden Village Prayer, after the (ELCA) Lutheran retreat center in Washington state. It was written by the dean of York Cathedral in England, and brought to the US by Lutherans who learned it from Anglicans imprisoned in a Japanese POW camp during World War II. It goes like this, and I think it’s perfect for times as uncertain as these:
O God, you have called your servants to ventures
of which we cannot see the ending,
by paths yet untrodden,
through perils unknown.
Give us faith to go out with good courage,
not knowing where we go,
but only that your hand is leading us
and your love supporting us
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Debi tells me she and I will be taking part an online discussion group on Zoom with some other folks from Peace Lutheran. I don’t know how to use it, but she does. Once I have a clearer idea of what Zoom is and what it does, it may be the technological fix I was looking for. If so, I’ll let you know what I find out. In the meantime, like I said, I’m OK with taking a few weeks to figure out the best way to continue. Please let me know what you think.
And be safe! You and the Dominican community are in our prayers.