This month marks one year since the first lockdown. Reflecting on the predicament of churches in the current pandemic, it occurred to me that our being together in this particular time is a new way of embodying church, and in a broader sense, an opportunity of deepening our vocation to be a church through life-giving relationships.
“Psychology of relapse” is how Romano Madera, philosopher and psychoanalyst, describes this time of pandemic. Since March of last year, when all programs, commitments, travels, and schools were suspended, we have shared a tacit commitment to give the best of ourselves, to put energy into solidarity, to live and treat time in a different way, to try to turn the restrictions into an opportunity for new attitudes and new emotional postures. The churches, especially those in the areas most affected at the beginning, have organized themselves creatively. Collaboration, interdenominational cooperation, and ecumenism have characterized the various initiatives, including daily biblical meditations sent via WhatsApp. Online worship services became an opportunity for forwarding thoughts of encouragement to family and friends and provided simple reflections on how the time of the pandemic could offer individuals and churches opportunity for conversations – enabling us to pay attention to the human hand on creation, to the dynamics of injustice at work, and to the glaring inequalities that have emerged.
Then the summer came. And it gave us the hope that it could bring a new breath of life. Instead, it turned out to be a “relapse.” This time it was even more extensive, involving the national territory and beyond, the whole area of Europe and the entire world. Just as the relapse from a physical illness, the relapse has brought the common reactions of tiredness, dissatisfaction, and anguish. What was all this for?
From October onwards in Italy, after a new and hopeful reopening, the churches with the largest and most ventilated premises were able to meet again in reduced numbers, trying to re-imagine the present and the future while churches with small rooms and reduced ventilation remained on digital platforms, looking for the most inclusive ways to gather with as many sisters and brothers around the Word of God.
We go on as we can, perhaps a little more alone, with great expenditure of energy, waiting for what exactly? What are we waiting for? For everything to end? For things to go back to the way they were before?
“I am the resurrection and the life,” says Jesus in the Gospel of John. We live in the time of the Risen One. The tiring, and at times distressing, daily life calls us not so much to survive, to save whatever we can, to succumb to the temptation “to retreat to private life,” but to recognize that the Resurrection is our promise and our vocation. This Resurrection is renewed for us every day. As individual believers and as communities of faith, we have the certainty that the light of the Resurrection is what allows us to live our life to the fullest, to integrate lamentations, pain, longings and difficulties, even death, in that truth which is the love of God in Christ for each one of us.
For me this means listening to the voices of others, looking at each generation for the gift they bring and the gift they are, recognizing the value of our spiritual relationships, making our individual homes places for community prayer, where everyone although at physical distance can feel united and bound by the Spirit of life.
Indeed, succeeding in keeping our community as loving and united as ever is the best revenge on the relapse syndrome! Considering ourselves part of a larger community which thinks, prays, acts, and does not yield to individualistic temptations, but opens itself to the world is the victory. Recognizing that either in presence and/or distance, we can cultivate the possibilities of sharing solidarity, of welcoming each other, of serving each other, of recognizing each other … even in a small rectangle on the screen. Together, regardless of the medium, the place, and the physical distance, we can nurture life for and with each other. The pandemic, or the relapse, has not defeated us!
“My days are in your hands,” says Psalm 31. More than with words of resignation, the psalmist turns to God who, like a midwife, holds my days in his hands – the days of each and every one of us. The Lord gives birth to my day, one after the other, and like the expert hands of a midwife, he washes it, removes the confusing varnish, and like a sculptor removes the chaotic mass from it. “O Lord, let me not be put to shame,” the psalm proceeds. In the moment I receive time as a gift from the hands of God, the whole attitude about what is happening can and does change!
What does this mean to us? I would like to suggest that the God who holds our time in his hands is calling us to hope.
We live the gift that is the church, the community, this reality that does not belong to us and of which we are a part – beyond any wall or stable, a reality open to the world, a connection that will never fail. Risking hope is the certainty that God has our days in his hands – hands that support, that lift those who are shaky, that comfort those who are afraid. Hands that carry the cross within themselves and announce the resurrection, which calls us to a new and full life that is already before us.
Lord, thank you for being among us. Thank you because your Spirit holds this time and this space in which our physical distances become a common table that can hold change, that can stand challenges, that can plan projects and invite reflections – for the present and for the future. Thank you for encouraging us to walk together, listening to each other, nurturing mutual respect, helping us to recognize your daughters and your sons – wherever they might be. We pray for your world, for the many who suffer alone, and for the churches that welcome, support, accompany, and console. Be present with your spirit among us also today, so that everything we do can be a gift of gratitude and an expression of your love for us.
In the name of Jesus,
For Reflection and Discussion
- How have the surges in COVID-19 impacted you emotionally?
- Do you think “psychology of relapse” is an accurate term? Why or why not?
- What does it mean to you personally to acknowledge “my days are in your hands”?