The abbot at Monastery of the Holy Spirit asked the brothers to give a talk to the chapter on how the Covid19 virus is affecting them. I gave my talk this morning. He understands that this worldwide event will have long-lasting effects on each monk, the community, as well as the world, and, I would think, the Church itself.

Brother Mark Dohle

*****

Most people seek happiness. This elusive state can be sought after in many ways. Most of the ways that are pursued happiness are often a dead end. Yet, the lesson is never really learned, so the crazy, insane behaviors continue. 

Then when something unexpected happens on a large scale, when what we had taken for granted is taken away, we may look back and think: I was happier than I thought, it is the absence that will often make us aware of ‘what we had’. It leaves a void, it is like losing someone we love, what was once there filling the heart, is not gone, the flame extinguished.

The very fact that our world has more or less stopped, and we do not know how long it will be before we can start it up again, can cause a sense of vulnerability that can be very uncomfortable. When trying to express this feeling, this image came to me:

I feel like a mouse,

hunted

by an invisible cat,

feeling its presence,

yet it eludes me.

How do you fight what you can’t see? Well, one way, is that it becomes a game of hide-and-seek. We isolate, distance ourselves, hoping that it will protect us. Which it does, sort of. Which is in itself is an affront perhaps for many, it is for me, bringing to light an unconscious arrogance make conscious of a supposed control over our destiny. We can choose how we respond, but the outcome, well, scary as it sounds, is out of our hands.

Everything in this world is fragile, can easily break and die. As we are seeing now with the whole world seeming to stop. Sports canceled, restaurants closing, empty highways during rush hour, this is making us think about what is really important in our lives.

Perhaps it is a fearful thing to be ‘forced’ into this position, yet, this seems the way we grow as individuals, societies, and yes because the world is now so small, as a world.

So do not be afraid at this time to look honestly on life, and see what is actually making for misery, isolation, and addiction.

So I do what I can. I am happy to work in our infirmary once again. I have more limitations on what I can do but doing what I can seem to be helpful. Also being there I have time to reacquaint myself with some of the members of our community. 

To my shame, it is bringing to the forefront of my mind how easy it is to forget the brothers who are away in our second-floor infirmary. It is easier to do than I thought before I left working there to become guest-master in our retreat house.

Years ago I was reading an article and this quote has stayed with me. I do not remember the author:

“You know the feeling you have when you receive terrible news. The feeling like you are dreaming. Well, guess what? That was an experience of waking up to reality.”

We adapt to life. To others dying. We incorporate known ways of dying into our everyday lives and that is how we assimilate, we pretend things are normal, and we are safe. Then we get a new threat, and suddenly we feel ‘hunted’. We are always hunted in fact, but the reality can be too much to contemplate. Covid-19 is like a predator seeking to devour us, and we have no defense, yet.

So what is reality? One aspect is that life is good, precious, and we need to protect it. One reason it is so precious is that we have so little time of it. This is a good time to think about how lovely it is to be alive, in spite of all the other ‘stuff’ that goes with it. As people of faith, we are called to deepen what our faith tells us what our lives are about. 

As monks, we should have a different perspective on what is socially considered important. For many, monastic life seeks something that is unreal to them, unimportant, unnecessary, and outdated.

We know that our lives are important, and that prayer connects us to the world at a depth not understood by perhaps the majority. What would be worse than dying from this virus, is to go through this world experience of fragility and come out unchanged?

So as men who have responded to the call to live lives of prayer, men who have been consecrated to God, let us prepare ourselves to embrace whatever comes, to remain calm, and to love and serve one another.

The starkness stands out,

I feel like a mouse,
hunted
by an invisible cat,
feeling its presence,
yet it eludes me.

I hate the feeling, Lord,
vulnerability,
being in an open field,
no place to hide,
yet it is life as it has always been.

The starkness stands out,
as well as life’s fragility,
so I do the best I can,
pray,
work in our infirmary,
be present for those i
live with and love.

Truly like flowers of the field
we age, and weaken,
or we get sick
and then, Lord, we are gone.

Yet, so what, I still trust in you.