Monday, March 30, 2020

A rule for involuntary anchoresses

Crash is working on a podcast episode about Julian of Norwich, a late fourteenth century anchoress. Meanwhile, one of Crash's friends is bemoaning her isolation, she says she feels like an involuntary anchoress. She's right, of course. Our lives are suddenly subject to rules not terribly different from the rules of life kept by the medieval anchoresses walled into the churches of England.

Anchorites — both men and women withdrew into the walls of churches — were at their peak in Julian's time, some churches had a waiting list for their anchorhold. It can sound macabre to us now, to receive the last rites and then to be walled into a small room or rooms off a church's nave, but despite the walls keeping them physically separated from the world, anchoresses remained connected to and were integral parts of the local community. They received guests at their windows, offered spiritual guidance, and shopped in the markets.

Forthwith - my rule for today's cornonavirus-isolated anchoresses drawing on the Ancrene Wisse, an early 13th century guide for anchoresses, which was on my shelf. (Parenthetical references to the text.)
  • When you have to take anything, your hand should not go out, nor anyone's in. Neither should one touch the other. (2-10)
  • Do not go out to eat at friends' houses. (8-6)
  • No parties! (8-7)
  • Send only one person out to shop for food, they ought not to linger in the market place. (8- 31)
  • If you have a knife or a piece of cloth, or food or drink (or face masks or Chlorox wipes), or anything else that would be of should be willing to do without it yourself. (4-90)
  • Keep a cat. (8-11)
  • Dress comfortably, skip the wimple and wear a soft cap. (8-19)
  • Read assiduously and at length. (4-82)
  • Pace yourself. (8-28)
  • Take a bath. (8-29)
  • Don't snack between meals. (8-33)
  • Support each other. (4-64)
  • Be grateful. (8-32)
  • Pray. 
Crash's podcast is Missing History, two friends trying to answer the question "Why haven't I ever heard of her?"

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Prayer in the time of corona virus

To-do list on yellow pad. Went for a walk at 5:30! #self-care
God, help us to lift our eyes from our books and lists and calendars. Grant us the eyes to see you in every encounter and every task in our day. — Prayer for the 4th Thursday of Lent, Not By Bread Alone

I wrote this prayer months ago, when I had no inkling that I would be spending these days with my eyes fixed on my computer's calendar and on my books as I scramble to retrofit my course to work for students now scattered to the four winds. My to-do list grows faster than I can tick off the tasks on it. Lectures to record, worksheets to develop, memos to write, deadlines to shift, forums to start, new software to master.

And the email. Out of the depths of my email, I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! O let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleading. I wrote 30 emails today, over 100 dropped into my work inbox, not counting the junk. Please, O Lord, slow the torrents.

Grant, God that I might see you in the faces on my screen, encounter you in passing in my email, and experience you in the tasks that must be done to keep the house running. O Lord, I left a load in the washer....

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Long Retreat

R2Me2, my trusty microphone, and my tea cup

We are not quite sheltered in place. The college has closed, we've pivoted to remote coursework. I'm working hard to create a situation for my students that lets them keep learning in all the different situations they are finding themselves. My students are scattered across several continents, some home, some not, some in quarantine.

I got up this morning, showered, pulled on my jeans, grabbed a white turtleneck from the stack on the shelf, and tossed a sweater over it all. I flashed back to the 30 days I spent in silence making Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises, where each day I got up and showered, put on jeans and a white turtleneck and one of the two sweaters I'd brought. I made tea and prayed morning prayer. I went for a walk everyday. I didn't go into town or shop or read the news. I spent intense hours in prayer, then time processing it, in writing and with my spiritual director. All of us praying through those days joined together for the Eucharist each evening before dinner.

Now I'm getting up and making tea and praying morning prayer. I go for a walk everyday. I haven't gone grocery shopping or into the college. OK, I have read the news, but most of the day I've been so focussed on the things I need to do to make this work for my students that I haven't given the news a thought. I'm spending intense hours in class preparation, then in processing it so I can pack it up for my students. The rest of the house is equally focussed. And every night, I sit down to a meal with Math Man and Crash. I can feel my retreat habits kick in, attuned to the day's ebb and flow, holding a tight focus on the work at hand.

This retreat from daily life may be longer than 30 days, but I trust the graces of those 30 days in silence will spill over these more difficult days.

Crash is home with us because the play he was working shuttered after one night and his apartment is sublet, since he was expecting to be elsewhere. If ever there was a moment to have a live in stage manager, this migh

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Loaves and fishes and toilet paper: love in the time of COVID-19

By Brandon Blinkenberg, CC BY 2.5
It's the most poignant thing I've seen in the COVID-19 epidemic so far: A four-pack of toilet paper tucked into the basket at the back of the church where my parish collects non-perishable items for the food pantry. Usually the basket is full of peanut butter and jelly, soups and tuna fish, coffee and the occasional pack of diapers. But on Sunday, there were four rolls of toilet paper.

I'd been to the grocery store on Friday, seen the shelves stripped of toilet paper. Yet here was someone who was not hoarding what they did not need this moment, someone who trusted that there would be some for them if they were in need. Or perhaps someone unconcerned that they might find themselves short sometime in the future. This is what love looks like in the time of COVID-19. It was a challenging generosity in a time when we are being asked to literally (though hopefully not metaphorically) distance ourselves from others.

I thought, too, of the loaves and fishes. Four rolls? Against the needs of how many this week or next who will need help? Will the rolls multiply at need? Perhaps not, but their presence has made me think how can I be a multiplier of what is needed — without being an incubator multiplying the virus.

What am I hanging on to that I need to loose my grip on so that those in need might have it? What can I give up to keep people safe? My in-person classes, going to Mass?