The words “religion” and “ligament” share a common Latin root, “ligare,” meaning “to bind.” A ligament binds bone to bone. It holds your bones together. Religion could be defined as “that which keeps you together.” Given this broad definition, some might claim art, music or nature as their religion.
How might religion/spirituality hold us together in a pandemic?
When our “Adapting to Aging” group at Montgomery Place convenes, we talk about ways to decrease isolation and maintain equilibrium. What holds your bones together? Some answers from residents: “Reaching out to family, friends and neighbors. Music. Good books and movies. Even junky TV. Taking a class at iTunes university. Keeping busy, but not over-doing. Being in the garden. Helping someone else. Appreciating little things. Taking a break from the news. Exercise.” (Note no one said, “Drinking heavily.”)
Take it a day at a time, and also taking the long view: this too shall pass. While acknowledging it’s a hard time, be joyful when you can. Be kind, including to yourself.
Collectively as a nation, we are grieving. Grief embodies denial, sadness, anger, fear, despair, numbness. All of us have lost something to the pandemic. There is so much uncertainty. What’s going to happen? We need to balance realism and optimism. You may have heard of the Stockdale paradox, popularized by Jim Collins in his book Good to Great.
James Stockdale was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for seven years. He was tortured repeatedly, and given little hope of returning to his wife and family. He survived because he managed to face squarely the horror of his situation. He found ways to cope—and help fellow prisoners do so—while never losing the assurance that, ultimately, he would prevail.
Victor Frankl, psychotherapist, holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, had a similar idea pre-dating Stockdale’s paradox. He called it “tragic optimism” and defined it as remaining optimistic in spite of the “tragic triad” of pain, guilt and death.
As one resident says, “The situation is awful. But I’m coping.”
Yes, you (plural) are. Montgomery Place residents are resourceful, courageous and indulge in very little self-pity. You paint, discuss poetry, read plays, organize activities. You worship online, discuss current events, meet over wine and cheese via Zoom or in the garden. You bike 30 miles along the Lake. You wear masks and respect distancing.
You are awesome! You are holding yourselves together, through your values and efforts and relationships.
Poet and Unitarian minister, Lynn Ungar, in her poem “Pandemic,” invites us to see this time as Jewish people view the Sabbath. A time to fast from being overly active. A time to recognize our lives are inter-twined. We need one another. A time for solitude, solace and solidarity with the beloved community.
Perhaps you, like me, have experienced some gifts during the pandemic: more time with family, more time to read and introspect. Perhaps you are more aware of your blessings. Being grateful is an advanced spiritual state.
Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry says we need an organizing principle. “Love God, love neighbor, love self” works for him. He tries to spend some time each day doing those three things. They can be small things.
Author Anne Lamott writes, “Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.”
If during these days, you feel troubled by anxiety or depression, something beyond “the blues” or feeling stressed, know you aren’t not alone. Nearly twice as many Americans are currently struggling with anxiety or depression today than they were in 2019, per CDC research. There are resources to help, and I will gladly steer you to them as needed.
By now it is a truism that we are in this together, but…we are. Together we’ll get through this.
Stay well and at peace. Watch a funny TV show or video. Keep your bones together, but it’s okay if your sides split sometimes.
The Rev. Laura Gottardi-Littell, M.Div.
Episcopal Priest | Chaplain and Director of Pastoral Care
Learn more at www.churchhomechicago.org