Fierce Grace in Frightening Times by Mary Sharratt


 

The Covid 19 pandemic had turned our lives upside down on a global scale. What we as a collective could not possibly have anticipated ever happening to privileged Western people has become our new normal as we are forced into lockdown and social isolation.

Ironically, apart from travel plans being canceled, my day-to-day life hasn’t changed that much. As a freelance writer, I’ve always worked from home and my workload and deadlines remain unchanged. In fact, many freelancers and remote workers feel pressured into greater productivity now that they are “stuck at home” with few other diversions. To me, this pressure to carry on business as usual amid a news stream of ever increasing infection and deaths feels sickeningly schizoid. Jocelyn K. Glei, in her brilliant podcast series Hurry Slowly, discusses this phenomenon of productivity shame.

On the other side of the coin, countless people have been forced out of work as businesses have shut down for the duration of the pandemic. Many people, especially young people and women, face the double-whammy of losing their income and having to homeschool their unhappy, cooped-up children. As families are put under pressure with no escape from abusive partners, domestic violence rates have soared. Meanwhile, many have been forcibly separated from vulnerable elderly relatives, causing untold distress.

This pandemic is undeniably a catastrophe, a staggering tragedy.

As governments step in to attempt to slow down infection rates, we find our civil liberties eroding and we don’t even know how long this will last.

Many days I can’t even bear to face the news. I feel as though I’m trapped in a badly written science fiction novel.

So how can we cope spiritually and psychologically with our new normal? Is it possible to find grace and blessing in these most frightening of times?

Before the pandemic, many of us led hyper-busy, verging on burnout lives that were very outward-directed, with precious little time for introspection and contemplation.

In summer 2019, during a super-hectic period of travel, conferences, speaking engagements, and looming deadlines, I found myself longing for respite. If only I could go on a long retreat, I found myself thinking. Or a sabbatical.

Had I only known that just over half-a-year later, the whole planet would be forced into retreat. That we would have no other choice but to slow down. That our outer-directedness and busy-ness would come to such an abrupt and shocking halt.

Now that the whole globe is on pause–apart from medical professionals and supermarket employees who are working long and grueling shifts to keep the rest of us alive–could we embrace this moment as a chance to take the time we just didn’t have in the Time Before? Could we view this as a retreat? Could we open our hearts to soulful contemplation? Can we view this as an invitation to creative gestation? To spend our lockdown in mindful presence with our spouse, our children, our animal companions?

In a recent talk, author and teacher Mirabai Starr discussed how the Hebrew word mitzvah means both mandate and blessing. For example, the mandate to keep holy the Shabbat opens devotees to the blessing of a day of rest, replenishment, and sacred connection. Likewise, Starr said that lockdown could be seen as the mandate to turn inward and take refuge in spiritual practice so we might receive the blessing of sanctuary and renewal.

Resources: 

What if the Coronavirus is the Ultimate Pause & Reset Button?

Spiritual Podcasts with Tami Simon of Sounds True

Marilyn Flower on lockdown as a spiritual opportunity

Sara Maitland’s The Book of Silence is a deep exploration of the profound gifts of silence, solitude, and introspection

Julian of Norwich and Social Distancing: A beautiful essay on how people of earlier times sought spiritual consolation in an era of plague and annihilation.

 

 

Mary Sharratt is on a mission to write women back into history. Her most recent novel Ecstasy is about the composer Alma Schindler Mahler. If you enjoyed this article, sign up for Mary’s newsletter or visit her website.

 



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23 replies

  1. Today the rains and cold winds stopped in Lesbos and I ventured out to plant a flowering sage on my doggie’s fresh grave. “Life and death take each other’s hands” (Adrienne Rich) in the garden.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Oh Carol, I didn’t know about your beloved dog – I know there is nothing I can say to ease the pain of this overpowering loss – but my heart/body weeps because I know….

    Having a dog changes who we are. I have learned more about unconditional love from dogs than from any human.

    What helped me the most through the last intolerable death was writing to my dog every night – going into the pain like this sounds horrible but in retrospect it helped me go on. I wrote every night for a month…and slept with a little white bear in my arms… I have never been able to read what I wrote and that was almost seven years ago.

    I think FAR folks know how much I love trees….When I returned home to Maine I discovered that a neighbor who really hates me for who I am (and hates all trees – has destroyed what was once beautiful woods chopping the crowns off the trees and letting them die horrible deaths) had cut down a huge pile of young saplings on my land so he and his wife could use this property as their personal ski area this winter… when I saw the devastation – well – I have no words.

    As you say now, and Adrienne once did “life and death take each other’s hands” but these words bring me no comfort when my soul/body weeps…

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Mary, “fierce grace” – these words break through terror and grief… there is a life force – the dark green religion of hope – that shines through even now –

    We are such a privileged people… I wonder ( dare I hope?) if this pandemic might arouse compassion for those who have been suffering throughout the world a long time before this virus hit?

    Thank you for your inspiring and compassionate post. I find myself wondering if when this pandemic ends if people will change anything at all. That this is a wake up call seems so obvious to us that were already awake but for so many?

    I live such a simple life that my routines haven’t changed much. Nature is my primary source of sustenance, and continues to be so… as is writing and reading. Living with fear is ongoing – feel it, eventual release, moments of peace, gratitude, sparks of joy… over and over, fear…. over and over the same wheel turns.

    I am going to read all of the essays you included. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh thank you Mary Sharatt. I don’t want to say this too loudly, but I find all of this incredibly freeing. It’s like when a loved one dies, it ‘gives’ you the opportunity to take stock of your life: ‘this’ matters. ‘this’ does not. Well, we have been given that gift on a global scale. No, I do not want to say that too l loudly because I also get that it is scary and that lots of people have lost their lives. And my heart grieves for them.

    But I also think of the 18,000 children who every single day, BEFORE this pandemic, lost their lives due to hunger. While we’ve stopped the world, couldn’t we figure out a way to save them too?

    Liked by 3 people

  5. You’re right, my dear: the world does seem like a novel. A novel by George Orwell! I love your reference to Julian of Norwich, who chose to become an anchorite. What did she say? “All things will be well. All manner of things will be well.” If only we today could believe her, but our world’s a lot more complicated than hers was. Well, we’ve got social media and email, which are better than the one door she had.

    I did something smart yesterday. I bought some Rescue Remedy. Years and years ago, I took classes on herbs and the Bach Flower Remedies. Which work. So I’ll put my drops of Rescue Remedy on my tongue and pet my cat and get back to work on a cool book I’m editing.

    Bright blessings to us all! Let’s all stay home and stay safe and comfortable…from where I live in SoCal to where you live in England to where Carol lives in the Mediterranean to where everybody who posts on this site lives to wherever anyone who reads our posts lives. Let’s all stay safe.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Mary, thank you so much for the reflections and the resources.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks so much for this essay, Mary. I too have been considering this to be a retreat. I’m lucky that I’m retired, but even so I often felt like I was too busy with doctor appointments for my mother and myself, and meetings for groups I belong to. Now I’m reading and walking in the woods behind my house more. I really feel for those who have lost jobs and for those whose lives are on the line, though, such as medical personnel, first responders, and grocery store workers. My heart breaks for those who have died, and for their grief-stricken loved ones. I hope they come up for a treatment for the virus soon, and I hope that when this is all over we do change our behavior for the better and realize that we are all part of the interconnected web of being.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you, Mary, for your inspirational article. I am honored to be one of the references you’ve linked to at the bottom of your post. I only recently noticed how many readers my post got from your reference and want to say thank you. I appreciate making these connections. I had not heard of this publication and now I shall follow and if appropriate contribute. Meanwhile, this shelter in place time offers us some unique opportunities for silence and going deeper into the world of Spirit. I believe we all have vast universes inside of us and maybe now is a good time to explore. serious questions come up about the nature of things, the nature of Spirit, and justice. Why are things the way they are? and how can we come out of this period ready to make long-overdue changes in our lives and the world? May this time be healing, revealing, and refreshing for all of us.thanks again,

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