When Covid 19 strikes

And finally, a section on spiritual practices if/when you are brought down by the Covid 19 virus. This has been the most challenging section to write… From what I am reading, the assessment is that between 30% and 60% of the population will eventually contract Covid 19. We are assured that for most of us, the illness will be mild, and manageable, and we will recover. The same may not be true for us older folk and those of us who have pre-existing health conditions. Thus, we need to look at spiritual practices that might be of some help.

      • Controlling anxiety

Anticipatory dread is probably the greatest spiritual problem we face when confronted with an imminent illness without assurance of a positive outcome. We have talked about this earlier and suggested a number of ways to remain focused on the present moment – the only moment we really have. So we plan for the future but we remain in the present.

      • The “gift” of our dying

Should, in fact, the virus be getting the best of us, Henri Nouwen, the great Canadian spiritual teacher, offers us a gentle suggestion of how to “die well.” You can find a summary of his book elsewhere on this website.

      • Teilhard’s Seven Stages of Suffering

Louis M. Savary1, a specialist in Ignatian spirituality, and a Teilhardian scholar, has developed seven stages of suffering based on Teilhard de Chardin’s The Divine Milieu. These are steps Teilhard recommends people take in responding to sickness, death, evil and other forms of physical, mental and spiritual diminishments. From an evolutionary standpoint, we either grow or diminish. “Diminishment” therefore becomes an important term to acknowledge that things are not getting better, and we are gradually losing strength and control over our lives. You will note that Savary firmly believes that God does not wish our diminishment, and, in the early stages of our illness, we are invited to join God in doing everything we can to stop the diminishment and work toward growth once again. There does come a point, however, when we know the battle will not be won. God is still very much present, and there remains much that we can do, but it is now a matter of preparing ourselves to let go of more and more until we have let go of everything.

1. Before diminishments occur: We are invited to resist sickness, evil and other diminishments with all your strength. Diminishments are by nature unwelcome and undesirable to the Body of Christ. Avoid any diminishment you see coming; get out of their way, if possible. As long as human resistance is possible, the total Body of Christ will be resisting it too. Some spiritual practices at this stage include:

            • I will with all my heart to be healthy again…

            • I summon all the agents of my body to engage in their healing work…

            • I imagine as clearly as I can the gradual restoration of the sick parts of my body…

            • I imagine warm and loving divine light showering my body…

            • I remember that God wills the blossoming of world…

            • I remember that God is within me, providing me with the energy I need…

2. But if diminishment is indeed happening, some further spiritual practices might include:

            • I Believe that God wants to free me from this diminishment.

            • I detest this diminishment and do everything in my power to get rid of it.

            • I believe that God hates and rejects this diminishment as much as—or more than—I do.

            • I believe that God wants my help in removing this diminishment from you, and to help God remove diminishments from others

3. If, however, we are defeated by the diminishment, we might suggest these spiritual practices:

            • I still resist it inwardly.

            • I resist it but without bitterness, resentment or revolt.

            • At the same time, though, hold on to “an anticipatory tendency” to finally accept it.

During the struggle, some further spiritual practices might include:

            • While continuing to struggle against it, I come to recognize that this hostile force can become for me a loving principle of transformation.

            • The challenge is to acknowledge that my diminishments and unwelcome experiences are happening in the Divine Milieu.

            • I come to acknowledge that as a created being I am still incomplete.

            • I acknowledge that every other incomplete being is striving for its own completeness. Thus, there are bound to be conflicts, competition, loss and failure. I acknowledge that Earth itself and everything on it is still incomplete, still in a state of process.

4. As deterioration continues, it becomes time to transfigure the diminishments: the great spiritual practice at this stage is to leave the time and manner of this transformation to one greater than oneself, namely, to the Total Christ, in whose Milieu this is all unfolding. God is capable of making good come out of evil, e.g., lessons learned. We remember that everything is capable of being transformed into good, though the transformation may not be completed instantly.

5. When all strength to resist the diminishment is spent, the fundamental spiritual practice here is to unite myself to the will of God, or God’s generic desire for the blossoming of everything, firmly believing that the total Body of Christ will ultimately find its fulfillment through my “offered” diminishments. Suffering requires a tremendous expenditure of energy. The spiritual practice involves “directing” that energy, not in anger but in union with God, confident that God transfigures our diminishments —even our physical deaths—by integrating them into a larger, better plan, provided we lovingly trust God.

6. Thus begins a communion in resignation: The spiritual practice at this stage, to the extent possible is to join God in communion across (over and above) the evil at a level of union stronger than the diminishment. In this union we learn to let our diminishments be transfigured into a force that helps build the Body of Christ.

7. As the End approaches, the spiritual practice at this last stage is some kind of act of will, letting my communion in resignation coincide with my deepest fidelity to the human task of promoting complexity and consciousness and revealing the Body of Christ. True resignation requires that we fight sincerely and with all our strength “in union with the creative force of the world” to drive evil away so that nothing in creation is diminished.

1Savary, Louis M., and Patricia H. Berne Teilhard de Chardin: Seven Stages of Suffering. A Spiritual Path for Transformation, 2015, Paulist Press