South Africa will wake up to a nationwide lockdown on 26 March and many other countries around the world are already facing similar restrictions to the individual freedom of movement. The ever increasing number of COVID-19 infections are also instilling fear and anxiety. Shrikant Peters reminds us that despite the frightening times that the world is experiencing, it is necessary to stay in touch with our spiritual lives by seeking opportunities for prayer and contemplation. A spiritual discipline, he says, is a good aid for connecting with God and finding the strength to remain calm during this time of uncertainty.
In the run-around of our daily lives, what could bring more joy than the prospect of being blessed with a fortnight of contemplative time? Some of us will be given even more time to be alone with our thoughts. Although this may at first seem to be any spiritual contemplative’s dream come true, the circumstances that have led to many of us self-isolating and up-ending the general routines of our lives hardly allow one to settle into the space of mind, which allows an examination of conscience. And for good reason.
Media reporting disrupts our contemplation
After an initial outbreak in China late last year, the SARS-CoV2 virus (COVID-19) has gone on to infect more than 455,000 people and kill over 20,000 patients worldwide as of 25 March, with many countries (including South Africa) still facing exponential increases in infection rates, disease and death in the coming weeks. Italy has been particularly badly affected, with the numbers of deaths there recently eclipsing those of China. The scene of an empty St Peter’s Square for a Papal blessing on the City of Rome is a stark symbol of the abnormality of the present time.
Since confirmation of the first imported case into South Africa on 5 March, we now have 709 active cases, with expanding community transmission having already started. Projections are that we will have 4 000 cases by the end of March, that 40 million citizens will eventually come to be infected, and that approximately 8 million people may suffer severe illness. Mortality numbers from statistical models reach into the 100 000s. This is almost unbelievable and will be unlike anything our health services have ever had to face.
To combat the spread of disease, world bodies and national government have followed the dictum, “Prevention is better than Cure”, calling for social distancing and good hygiene practices. Even if we cannot stop the virus from infecting the majority of people, we can still slow it down so that our health services are not overwhelmed, and that the minority of those who need critical care will have access to it when they require. Panic buying (and worse, theft) of essential groceries and hygiene products is unnecessary and serves only to disadvantage others in need. We must desist from destabilising the country in this way.
The level of fear this has introduced into our daily lives is sobering, chilling and paralysing. This has rattled every sphere of life in every country in the world: our politics, economics, international trade and travel, worker productivity, business margins and sustainability, food supplies, social scenes and even religious activity. The Church has been forced to cancel masses, events and even small group meetings.
A routine for daily reflection and examination of conscience
Having the wherewithal during this period to remain centred on our personal relationship with God can be taxing. Within the practice of social distancing and quarantine, the need for more information is overpowering, addictive even. Of course, it is important to be kept abreast of the news, but this can significantly limit our ability to concentrate on the presence of God in our lives.
While physically cut off from each other and the activities of the Church, it is all the more important to make time for daily Examen. To probe our thoughts, fears, anxieties and to bring this to God, often, and with purpose. To find ways in which we can strengthen our resolve to remain calm and support those around us, during a time in which every person in the world feels vulnerable and uncertain. With the world in chaos, we must connect with the inner peace we all carry within; that of God-with-us.