They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
Fr. Richard Hendrick, OFM
We are being tested. No doubt about it. Tested to see if we can continue living our deep spiritual principles in times of intense struggle and uncertainty. In the Tree of Life community, we’ve talked a lot about the purpose of being tested over the years always saying it was really a good thing. No fun for sure. But, certainly, a way of mining—way down—to excavate some buried treasure we didn’t even know we had—to, ultimately, see for ourselves that we really do blossom, not in spite of, but because of.
So, I’ve made a commitment to live through this time, every day, looking with soft eyes, to see just where I may extract some of those spiritual gems that only reveal themselves when we are forced to dive deep. The first one came this past Friday. May it bless your day as we begin this journey together . . .
What? No toilet paper?! There’s nothing like the toilet paper shelves being empty to jar us awake! Like most, I’ve been dealing with my own fears, insecurities, and watching my own need to hoard—just in case. Then, recently in the grocery store, passing those empty shelves, and waiting in that very long line on the way up to the additional lines at the terminals, I suddenly took in the gravity of our situation. I didn’t fully realize it at the time but our would become the operative word.
It became so the next morning when, in my spiritual practice, I prayed to our beloved God to please show me what I needed to know about this critical time. In the silence, I was surprised to sense that the coronavirus could actually be a blessing—that how the instinctual impulse to hoard, when we perceive there’s not enough, can actually awaken a deeper sense of our interconnectedness. How? I suddenly saw how in our affluent way of living, indeed satiated fullness, we so easily can become comatose forgetting we are utterly and completely dependent upon other people, people just like you and me, to show up every day and do their part so we may continue to enjoy the life we’ve come to know and, all too often, take for granted.
I saw images of the farmers in the fields growing our food, the packers, truck drivers and, finally, the grocery store attendants placing the items on the shelves. And, as for the most revered item in times of crisis, toilet paper, I could now imagine the tree cutters, paper manufacturers, assembly line workers, and again, the haulers and, finally, the store attendants placing this most coveted of all items on the shelves. Now, add in a pandemic and the possibility of just any one of these groups falling away, and suddenly I was awakened to the very real truth that any broken link in this human chain impacts the whole.
From there, in the silence of my heart, I began to feel how I, as one of the affluent ones, have actually contributed to the kind of global hoarding that’s now being played out in neighborhood grocery stores all around the world. For example, my husband and I are not rich by any means. We enjoy a comfortable middle–class retirement lifestyle. Yet, look inside our refrigerator and cupboards and you’ll find almond milk and regular milk, Ezekiel bread and regular bread, almond butter and peanut butter, fancy organic granola and Cherrios, just to name a few examples. Really? When there are many people around the world who have no milk, no bread, no peanut butter, no cereal.
Gratefully, I came out of my prayers feeling both deeply connected to the web of life as well as fully culpable for my part in it. I can’t pretend now I don’t recognize my part in creating hunger in a faraway land. I can’t turn away from the suffering I now sense ever more deeply. And, as a result, my heart has been pierced to a new depth with the most tender of all remembrances—that every person is my brother, my sister. So, as suffering and death increase with this pandemic, I’m reminded of the importance of not isolating my heart—but, quite the contrary, to keeping it open to all, in all ways, as I am able. For, in truth, I’m as intricately connected to the one far away working in the fields as I am to my neighbor tending her garden.
I have been jarred awake in a way I had not imagined and I realize I have only begun to see just the tip of the proverbial iceberg . . . but I will continue to pray, day by day, and dive deeper and deeper. And I pray many of you will too for, if so, the coronavirus may just leave us with the greatest blessing of all . . .
A new way of seeing, being, and living in the world . . . born of an ever–deepening sense of interconnectedness with all peoples.
And so . . . we sing.