this Contentment we share~in a time of world crisis
COVID-19 Pandemic~Special Edition 2
Mar 29, 2020
*Brian Wilcox. 'Androscoggin River Series ~ No. 22'
A gospel song often sung in my childhood worship community is "It Is Well With My Soul." Horatio G. Spafford (b. 1828) wrote the lyrics. Spafford, a lawyer and in real estate, experienced the death of his four-year-old son and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The fire left him financially ruined. Then, in 1873, after abdicating, at the last moment, his plans to go with his wife and daughters to Europe via ship, he sent them ahead. The ship collided with another vessel and sank. Spafford's four daughters died. Anna, his wife, sent him a telegram with the words, "Saved alone...". On his way via ship to meet Anna, Spafford, near where his daughters died, wrote the lyrics to "It Is Well With My Soul." The first stanza follows, with "taught me to know," the prior version before a change to "... to say."
When peace like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know It is well, it is well, with my soul.
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This writing is about this inner peace Spafford wrote of. I have penned this due to the present COVID-19 pandemic, and with the hope that it will be encouraging to persons of any religious or spiritual path. One can view the first writing addressing this time of world crisis, "Flowers in the Field ~ Welcoming the world in," March 18, 2020.
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A seeker visited the Anonymous Sage...
Seeker: You seem to be content, whatever happens.
Sage: Do I?
Seeker: Well, you appear so. What's the secret? Don't you have hardships like the rest of us?
Sage: Secret? I'm not sure you can rightly call it a secret... I'll share a story.
A man appeared to fall into a river. The rapids led to a waterfall. Onlookers gasped in fear, while the current carried the man hurriedly along. He came up out of the waters okay, even laughing, after tumbling over the waterfall. The people asked, "How did you survive that?" "Oh," he said, "I've been surviving that for years. I didn't fall in; I jumped in." "Why in the world would you do that?!" they asked. "It's a great ride. See, I accommodate myself to the waters, rather than trying to get the waters to accommodate me."
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I'm telling you this, but not because I need something. I've learned to be fulfilled-within, whatever I have, whatever happens. I know how to live satisfied with little or plenty. I've learned the secret of living contently in any situation - when I'm filled-to-satisfaction or empty-to-the-core, when I've everything I need or nothing. Christ gives the strength I need to adapt to whatever happens.
As I write this, the world is going through a pandemic, the COVID-19 virus. As of this moment, on March 28, 2020, we have 645,148 cases worldwide: 29,951 deaths, 139,550 recovered. These stats are rising rapidly. We can resist this pandemic, as some are doing (i.e., denying it is happening, believing an anointed cloth will protect them), or we can adapt to this as intelligent-spiritual beings. COVID-19 does not accommodate us, even as life does not accommodate itself to our wishes, our complaints, or our demands.
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Buddhists provide insight for this time. The first of the Four Noble Truths, believed to have been taught by Buddha, is "All is suffering." "Suffering" does not mean pain, but the emotional quality of distress, dissatisfaction, discontent. Buddhists say that this suffering arises from one of two causes: aversion, clinging. First, "I don't like this and refuse it." Second, "This is pleasing, so I'll hang on tightly to it." This sagacity is basic psychology, also.
Equanimity arises with a sense of choiceless awareness. By relaxing into this moment, we welcome contentment into our bodies, into our whole selves. In this posture, we can spread fulfillment. If we are apart from others, we can do this online or via phone, and most of us are isolating: as of March 27, 2020, a third of the world population was in solitude. Hence, peace begins within. To what extent can we help others without peace within ourselves?
Peace within can be like a subtle fragrance that positively affects those about us. We can benefit them in this way, for we, with them, are creating the bodily-emotional-spiritual environment in which we live, move, and breathe. Our presence is beneficial or toxic. If we are toxic, we will offer the toxicity to others, even without our intending to or knowing we are.
No, we are not satisfied with what is happening. One would be unwise to say, "Let's all be content with this pandemic." We can, however, be content within ourselves and among ourselves. We can inwardly be at-peace while concerned for all affected in any way by the spread of the virus.
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Remaining in equanimity has been key to my professional life. When a pastor and, later, hospice chaplain, one of my most important roles was meeting with families after a loved one died. Whether at the side of the deceased shortly after death or later at the memorial worship and burial, the family needed me to join with it. I, when a chaplain in the jail and prison systems, often had to inform an inmate of the death of a family member. This was received always as a shock. I had to be the chaplain, and that meant remembering before me was not merely an inmate, but more, a person. This joining-with is an empathic response. I needed to retain equanimity to provide foremost a presence of peace amid grief.
In our sharing this calm, we bless others and encourage them. Now, we need equanimity, persons who remain alert and receptive to the inner Light. We need persons who remain hopeful, moored in the Now, not dragged down into the bad news of what might be the future. And we never know the extent of influence on others one person will have who is anchored by the Spirit and in the Spirit, thereby prayerful for others.
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Being prayerful is a good idea for this time, do you think? Many are risking health and life to help others. These helpers are among those who need our prayers.
If we are in seclusion, rather than seeking escapes through media and busyness, hankering after distractions, we can value this time as an opportunity to be quiet, relax into solitude, and open the heart to the world. This opening can include praying in words, chanting prayers, singing prayers, or remaining quiet in the Silence. We do not have to say prayers to pray. We do not have to agree to whom or what we pray. We do, however, need to pray. Prayer can simply be resting in the Silence, not directing prayer to anyone or anything.
What is most important about this prayerfulness? Prayer is not foremost a means to get something for someone. Prayer is first a means of loving. Prayer is a way of sharing, being present for one another. Prayer is an act of heart-communion. In the Light, there is no distance, no time. We are One in the Light of Love. In praying, we not only love others, but we also love ourselves: we are different from each other, not separate from each other.
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A member of our intentional community house has spoken of this time as a cloister time for us here. We joked about this. We saw the humor and its truth. We are cloistered in, and this can be a cloistering time. We can be in prayerful solitude. This time can be a devoted season, with a calling to linger mindfully in the Chapel of the Heart.
My experience with this cloistering mentality came somewhat 15 days ago. After a time of prayer in the Silence, I got up, and the words arose within, "Devote this time to Me." This inner summons does not mean I have to be doing something spiritual or religious all the time, but it does mean more time than typical in prayer, silence, and spiritual reading. How we devote this time, this will differ among us, but we need persons who engage this season as a time of devotion.
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The writer of the Philippians scripture spoke of Christ enabling him to adjust to a broad spectrum of life situations. For some persons, "Christ" refers to Jesus. For others, "Christ" indicates something other than the man Jesus. For me, "Christ" alludes to the Presence that Jesus embodied on Earth, and we embody the same Presence. "Christ," then, can go by many names or titles. I sometimes refer to the spirit-of-Things, a Taoist term, or what Quakers often use, the Light. And the Light is not just within us, but outside us as well, for we are of one whole with Nature. We are Nature, there are no separating surfaces among us, only differentiating surfaces.
Now is not a time to grit the teeth for survival, but a time to live positively, compassionately. Strength arises through our shared Heart, our oneness-in-Love. Waiting patiently, we can feel this energy manifest in the body.
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We, rather than yelling into the darkness, can bow in our collective need, prayerful in word or silence before the Altar of the Heart. In this, we step outside our small selves and into the All. With this prayerfulness, we can feel the veil of loneliness lift, for we connect with everyone and everything. In this, we love others, and we posture ourselves to receive love in return.
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I leave us with a blessing for this season, for any season, and a song most appropriate for the present time. The vocalist for "Love is All" is the late Vann Johnson.
May all beings enjoy love, joy, and peace May all beings share love, joy, and peace
May all suffering cease May kindness abound for all
May we feel our oneness May we feel our being loved May we feel our gratefulness
May we be content within May we share contentment without
May we, amid our differences, celebrate that we are One
May we find refuge in the Heart - our Heart
May this be!
Video can be accessed on original site, YouTube, through the upper-left artist-title: