WRITTEN BY SR. HANNAH PATRICIA O’DONOHUGE

On Wednesday, March 11, 2020, Americans across the country were going to work, school, and doing their daily routines. That afternoon the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic caused by a disease we had heard of in Europe and in Asia. It was now in the United States. Every hour brought major new developments: travel bans, cancellations of major events, business and church closures. Many states ordered their populations to socially isolate, encouraged the wearing of masks when in public, washing one’s hands frequently, keeping six feet apart. In 24-hours Americans were in a panic buying toilet paper, food, and other commodities. Suddenly we were forced into isolation unless we were considered essential for services to others.

Our fast-paced, production-oriented, extroverted culture was in shock. Individuals and families experienced economic loss, school closures, and cancellations of sacramental celebrations such as baptism, first communion, confirmation, and weddings— all times for deep connection. Isolation from family and friends at all levels of society, especially painful for nursing home residents and patients dying alone in hospitals, intensified our shock, grief, and loss. The eruption of social unrest caused by the death of George Floyd and many other black citizens has added another reality we cannot ignore. The indelibly cruel image of almost nine minutes showing George Floyd’s murder ignited the soul of America and then the world.

Author Francis Weller says, “Grief is more than an emotion; it is also a faculty of being human. It is a skill that must be developed. Grief invites gravity and depth into our world.” In 2020, we are being called to develop the skill of grief, the faculty of being human. We are invited to reflect on a world struggling with famine, refugees, and a disease we do not understand. We are summoned out of a world we knew before these global shifts to a time out of ordinary time. As a culture we have no name or process to navigate this experience. But we are blessed with a faith tradition that can nourish and comfort us in living into the unknown. The question remains, what can I do personally? As a spiritual director I offer four practices to support being present to the reality of 2020:

Create an Inner Space

First, create an inner space away from online and television distractions. Make a commitment to be still and quiet for five to ten minutes each day. Pray the phrase of the psalmist, “Be still and know that I am God.” The silence prevents our minds from creating or dwelling on an abyss of fears which only our hearts can cross and taps into the deep faith within. We encounter a calming silence.

Spend Time in Nature

Second, get out in nature. Notice the beauty of your senses, sight, sound, scent, touch. Experience moving your body through the world, the earth under your feet, the sky overhead, and the wind on your face. Nature has a healing and renewing medicine for our souls. The world is bigger than “our world.”

“We are blessed with a faith tradition that can nourish and comfort us living into the unknown.” – Sr. Hannah O’Donohue

Treat Yourself Compassionately

Third, be aware of emotional highs and lows in yourself, and hold these with compassion. All of us realize we cannot control the effects of the pandemic and that helplessness is not easy to carry. Our selfcompassion is essential for us to be patient with others as well. 

Accept & Trust

Finally, as we face the fact that there is no going back to life the way it was, we need to trust and hope in the slow work of God present in our experience. Wise hope is rooted in the unknown and unknowable as we daily take care of what is in front of us. By accepting the reality of 2020 and grieving what has been lost, we can begin the task of living into an unknown future. We develop the gravity and depth needed for the task ahead. Self-care is essential for us to be part of a vibrant faith community. Let us do our part.

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