Associate Vice President for Mission and Ministry, Sister Mary Kerber answers some of our more challenging questions about faith and spirituality during a crisis and more specifically during the Coronavirus pandemic. While our spiritually and faith will always see moments of trial and growth, times like these tend to bring them to the forefront. How will we experience the journey?
It seems people are relying more on their faith and spirituality during this pandemic than ever before. Why do you think this is happening?
It is so true…when things happen that are beyond our comprehension or beyond our control, we search for the deeper meanings of life.
We stretch to realities beyond ourselves when we come to grips with the fact that we are not always in control and most certainly, we are not the center of the universe, though a precious part of it. Spirituality and faith are not static – they are a quest, a journey that makes use of our minds, our hearts, our inner spirits and even our personalities. At the same time, they move us beyond them and their limitations to Ultimate Truth. For many, there is a fierce conviction and commitment not to let this pandemic define us, though it certainly impacts us. Every choice we make for the greater values in life, for the pursuit of truth, beauty and goodness during this time is placing us more firmly on our journeys of faith and spirituality.
For those who follow faith traditions, a common question is: Why is God causing this? Is there an answer?
Well, here is “my” answer, born of my faith…. God is NOT causing this. A virus out of control is causing this. Our world, though lovely and deeply treasured, is nonetheless vulnerable, limited and imperfect. God gives us the gift of freedom and respects our freedom. We make choices that not only have an impact on us but on others and on the earth community. There is nothing like the experience of this pandemic to confirm the depth and stretch of this impact! Indeed, we and all that is -is interconnected. Our faith traditions also teach us that God is almighty, merciful and full of goodness and kindness, who can make all things turn to our good. For those of us who are Christians, Jesus, the Son of God chose to suffer with us, to be with us on our journeys of sorrow and loss. Jesus opened himself to full human suffering and is one with us.
So, as people of faith, we open ourselves to the good - and who us does not see the signs all around us such as:
What is your own list?
We feel the idea of community is really being defined now, it’s different for everyone but where do you see the positive impact for our communities during this?
Above all, this world-wide pandemic is inviting us to an expanded idea of community as we realize the whole world is in this together. We are experiencing the pain and sorrow of the global community. Now can we open ourselves to the joys and the responsibilities of creating and recreating the kind of global community we need? This is calling us to a great degree of soul-searching and a depth of unselfishness like never before.
We realize that the development of “me” hinges critically on the development of ALL. What I do, affects all. What others do affects me and those I love. It is all about considering the common good. Look at the extreme sacrifices we are making now. Why are you doing it? The answer in each of our hearts is way beyond “because this is good for me.” I hope this is a positive impact that will never leave us and that we can pass on as our legacy to generations after us.
We would like to practice our faith and spirituality in a meaningful way during this COVID-19 crisis. How can we discover new opportunities to do this?
Our spiritual and faith-based practices are both individual and communal. Each of us needs to find what brings us meaning and be open to the fact that it might be something very different from what we have done before. There are so many resources on-line to participate in communal events, to meditate on your own or with others, to study and reflect on Sacred Texts, to listen to religious concerts or music. This is a great time to explore. At the same time, we can spend so much time exploring that we don’t really practice or participate.
A few suggestions are:
Finally, reaching out to others is a faith-filled and spiritual practice. A phone call to someone who may feel isolated, shopping for a neighbor or relative who can’t or shouldn’t go out, tutoring or entertaining a younger sibling, cooking for someone, or virtual serving. Our Monday Campus Ministry and Service Newsletter brings you may ideas and resources for your practice.
How does faith or spirituality help when I am having trouble finding hope?
Hope is not the same as optimism. Hope finds a place in our lives when we can live beyond ourselves and trust that there is a Power, a Goodness, a Merciful Presence that is ultimately reliable and is always working for our good. Times of crisis can lead us to despair or can invite us to use all the resources within us and outside of us to find that sturdy shelter; as Psalm 46 so eloquently states “an ever-sturdy shelter in times of distress." Hope is not always a feeling, it is a choice. And when we intentionally make that choice from moment to moment and begin to act on it, even when the feelings aren’t there, it begins to seep into our spirits and we begin to see life from a very different perspective. Sometimes this takes incredible monitoring of our wayward minds that can lead us to negativity and despair. St. Teresa of Avila had a bookmark in which was written the following words that may be our “go-to” to tame our worrying minds and spirits:
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing;
God only is changeless.
Patience gains all things.
Who has God wants nothing.
God alone suffices.
St. Teresa of Avila
Sometimes during challenging times, I feel like I am losing my faith or regressing to thoughts or behaviors that aren’t productive, how do we keep from doing that?
I think at the beginning, that is what we do – we react and perhaps do regress to our former or not so helpful patterns of thinking and acting. It doesn’t help to judge or criticize ourselves. Really all we have to do is simply be aware! Once we are aware, life will present itself with the way forward. Our primary propensities call us to evolutionary growth. They are never over and done with, but keep presenting themselves on deeper levels when we are ready for the growth. It takes great trust to know that the struggles of the past have prepared us for this next surge of growth. Faith has to do with a relationship with God (of whatever name). Relationships deepen and grow and evolve if they are healthy ones. Of course, there are set-backs but the overall trajectory is forward. Simply put, we need not fear. Whatever we are going through presents us with an invitation. I love the poem “The Guest House” by the Sufi poet Rumi:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jellaludin Rumi
If you have any questions or thoughts about faith or spirituality that you would like to share with Sister Mary, she is available to talk via email or join her during her virtual office hours via zoom. Her office hours are open to students, faculty, and staff: Monday’s 3:00-4:00 p.m., Tuesday’s 10:00-11:00 a.m., and Thursday’s 10:00-11:00 a.m.