Digitalnun’s Guide to Self-Isolating for Dummies

How often have you toyed with the idea of becoming a hermit for a few days or dwelt lovingly on the thought that if everybody would just go away for a while and leave you in peace, everything would be perfect? Anyone who has ever tried the experiment knows we carry our demons within, and whether the desert we escaped to was real or imaginary, the one person we cannot flee is ourself. But what if you are now faced with ‘self-isolating’ or being quarantined for a fortnight along with others? Not so much being alone with the Alone as alone with a crowd — especially if the crowd is your nearest and dearest, your family? How will you fare? How will you even survive without committing murder? Time to call in the experts! Nuns are uniquely experienced in this business of living in a small space with companions who sometimes get on our nerves as much as we do theirs. So, here is Digitalnun’s guide to self-isolating for dummies.

First, accept the inevitable. We are going to be cooped up together for a while and it isn’t going to be easy. It will help if we have made some preparations beforehand. These include, if possible,

· enough stores of food and household goods to last a fortnight (but don’t go overboard: we deprive others if we stockpile);

· a menu plan;

· a routine which includes times for work, relaxation, silence, conviviality and, if a Christian, prayer;

· enough books, music, videos or whatever you and your family need to ensure that you do not spend too much time bickering over trifles;

· an emergency plan for obtaining help if needed;

· an emergency plan for giving help if needed.

You probably think this is all very basic and obvious. Of course it is. Much of monastic life is basic and obvious. Benedict was well aware of the stresses and strains of community life and sketched out in his Rule ways of coping with them. He was realistic enough to know we can be tempted to murder one another, especially when we cannot get away from other people; he understood the importance of routine and settling questions of what we are to eat and when to avoid making them the focus of disputes when there is not enough to occupy us. He recognized that silence is necessary not only to our spiritual health but also to our general well-being and can prove a healing balm in difficult situations. He realised, too, that we must have work to do (even if it is just decluttering a cupboard). Above all, he placed great emphasis on putting the needs of others first, of apologizing when things have gone wrong and not allowing feuds to simmer or grumbles to destroy the peace of the group. 

I wonder if we can tease out that last point, about putting the needs of others first, a little more? Some people have expended a lot of effort and even anger in trying to play down the seriousness of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. In addition to pouring scorn on those who are anxious about themselves or their families, some have attacked policies designed to protect everyone from the virus. If one is in good health and certain of access to an ICU and ventilator should need arise, one could well argue that there is nothing to worry about — for oneself. But one’s neighbour with asthma or some other illness, the elderly person living alone down the road, or the citizen of a country with a practically non-existent healthcare system, what about them? And becoming indignant about the precautions we are asked to take in church for the sake of others, what does that say about us?

This is where I think the reason some of us become nuns and adopt a solitary life lived in community becomes highly relevant. We do so in order to become more filled with love of God and neighbour, more selfless, more Christ-like. We may not be very good at it, but everything in the monastery is designed to help us. Being forced into self-isolating or quarantine and all that goes with it may well be contrary to everything we desire or think right for us, but it is imposed on us for the good of others. We can learn from it. We can turn what at first sight seems a negative experience into a positive one. We can rediscover what it means to live simply; we can experience what it is like to live without access to the Sacraments or the social/work communities on which we rely for much of our daily interaction; we may even rediscover some of the joys of family life or, if we live alone, the joys of solitude. We can confront some of our inner demons and maybe conquer them. We can end up less of a dummy than we were before.

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23 thoughts on “Digitalnun’s Guide to Self-Isolating for Dummies”

  1. Thank you, that is so relevant. We are fortunate in having family who watch over us, at a distance at the moment but who are there for us.

  2. I wonder whether more people would become nuns or monks if they had the opportunity to read this Post! You are in my prayers..as I know I am in yours… Thank you

  3. A wonderful article on so many levels! I am fortunate enough to live a mile down the road from a Benedictine abbey here in the USA . I sent the article to some of the monks for them to read. Stay safe and healthy!

  4. Such a good article. It reminds me of the old catholic joke when a woman was asked if she had ever contemplated divorce. ‘No’ she said ‘but murder – often’.
    This really needs to be sent to every household in the country to help keep us all focussed, sane and sensible.

  5. Dear Sister, you are “brilliant”! Thank you alway’s for your post’s. This one comes at a time of unusual fear concerning the Corona Virus. In this last week I’ve discovered that I can either allow my fear’s to distract me from my Lenten journey. Or, I can use this time to allow myself to Love Him and Trust Him more. My personal intention is to grow closer in relationship with Christ. Because of free will, I can choose Christ rather than being distracted by fear. I keep you and your Sister’s in my prayers. God Bless You Alway’s.

  6. Thank you for reminding us of all this. Very helpful and so important. Just waiting to get a friend out of hospital before things get more complicated.

  7. Thank you so much dear Mother Catherine. This article is so profound, positive and sensible. Much food for thought for living in these days. God bless – you are always in my prayers.

  8. Thank you Sister Catherine. I live alone and value my solitude but enjoy outside activities and friends. But knowing that I may now not be able to go out and see friends when I choose has brought it home to me that solitude is not always an easy thing. Your suggestion of a timetable will help with the anxiety I think. Thank God for the telephone and social media for keeping in touch. And maybe this time could turn out to be a blessing.

    • I understand. If I’m spared, as my grandmother used to say, I may do another post on the difficulties of isolation and ‘social distancing’. I hope you will stay safe and find that there is a sliver lining to this particular cloud.

  9. My granny said this too. A dose of reality yesterday was when my 6 year old grandson ran upstairs to wash his hands and said ‘this is for you granny. I won’t be ill because I’m six, but you might die’.

    I’m looking forward to your next blog because ‘work’ for me now is looking after the grandsons and that might have to end, and there’s only so many cupboards to turn out. I read, cook, and all the other things you suggest but when one’s working life is over and it’s unwise to go out to explore, what to do?

    • Having spent part of last night mopping up after the death of Freddie the Freezer, and spending much of today cooking thawed produce to reduce waste, I’m tempted to say make time for the unexpected! But I get your point. 🙂

  10. Thank you so much! I’ve shared this with our church here in France, which has suddenly become an online community rather than one which meets up in person… I believe that your advice will be a great blessing to us over the weeks to come. Thanks for your Godly good sense!

  11. Good Morning Sisters i am part of a ministry leadership team and each of the members has been asked to write about how we are ministering in lockdown. two of your comments came to mind from Guide to Self Isolating for dummies and An Unexpected Sabbath – could I quote from these in my magazine articule?of course acknowledging where they came from thank you

    • Of course, Heather, you are welcome. If you quote more than a sentence or two, please would you include the usual copyright notice (to keep our Trustees happy): Taken from iBenedictines.org, Copyright © 2020 Trustees of Holy Trinity Monastery, Company No. 7487215, Reg. Charity No. 1144001. Used by permission.

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