An Unexpected Sabbath

Having already written posts about social distancing and self-isolation and the importance of maintaining a welcoming attitude in times of pandemic, you would think I had said quite enough COVID-19. Probably I have, but yesterday I was struck by the number of people who are troubled about the prospect of being cut off from everyone and everything familiar and are struggling to make sense of what, at the moment, looks like total negativity. Perhaps that is the problem: seeing everything as negative. Would it help to look upon the limitations imposed by the spread of this new kind of coronavirus as providing us with an unexpected sabbath? The cessation of travel, the staying home, the curtailment of work to what is strictly necessary, the rediscovery of the joys of solitude and family life — aren’t these elements of sabbath we can find positive?

For us in the monastery the increased physical silence caused by less traffic on the road is already a blessing, reinforcing as it does the inner silence we cultivate as a means to prayer. Not everyone experiences silence as a blessing, of course, not at first anyway. It has to be learned, but perhaps the new circumstances in which we find ourselves will provide us all with an opportunity to discover why silence matters and to practise it in a way we’ve not had time for before. Call it an unexpected sabbath or making a cloister of the heart and we reclaim all that is positive about the experience of social distancing and self-isolation.

At the beginning of Lent we were invited to go into the desert with Jesus. The desert is a place of silence, demons, strange contests, immensely important to the monastic tradition as an image of the spiritual quest on which we are engaged. It is the place where Israel learned to love the Lord, where the Covenant was made, where the sabbath was given and where Jesus triumphed over temptation. The ‘new normal’ of COVID-19 takes many of us further into the desert than we ever expected. Let us go into it with faith, hope and joy, knowing that where we go, the Lord has gone before.


15 thoughts on “An Unexpected Sabbath”

  1. I’m right there with you.
    In my silence though, I think of all those for whom this forced isolation is dangerous financially and scary physically and emotionally…
    It’s a time when the whole of Planet Earth is asked to turn our minds and hearts toward God, YHWH, Allah, Shiva, the Lord Buddha…
    In prayers with all of you xoxo

  2. I almost felt guilty at, in some ways, rather welcoming the social silence! Thank you. I pray that all of you will will often have a smile on your faces and enjoy a quiet chuckle.

  3. I do appreciate the concept of having time to reflect but sadly my mind is rather taken up with how I’m going to get milk during the four months I’m going to be expected to isolate myself indoors. I may have to wear a disguise and nip into the corner shop under cover of darkness.

  4. As I an employed in healthcare, visiting the sick,elderly and lonely who rely on us for their care:; it is busy as usual for me. I intend to take extra care of my health, but my calling is to call. Thank you Sister. Lent blessings

  5. Dear Sister,
    I found this blog so inspiring that I wold like to circulate it to other members of my Church community many of whom do not have access to the internet. Would there be any restriction on me typing it up and circulating a hard copy to a limited number? Thank you for your inspiring thoughts.

    • Thank you. Of course. You can probably copy and paste it, which would save a lot of typing, but please would you include the copyright notice? i.e.
      Copyright © 2020 Trustees of Holy Trinity Monastery, Company No. 7487215, Registered Charity No. 1144001. Used by permission.
      Other copyright/comment details can be found in the sidebar but I don’t think you’d need them. Blessings on your church community!

  6. I have come to think of it as a personalised retreat and I chant when I wash my hands so that my ablutions become prayers and good wishes for the benefit of all (though you might disagree if you could hear me).

  7. It’s my inner noise I am struggling with. We rely on live-in carers for my husband. When some of them get sick, as inevitably they will, or have to self-isolate, the agency is going to have to make difficult decisions about who gets the carers and who doesn’t. I don’t want to be greedy but just can’t think how I would cope on my own. Please pray for everyone in a similar situation, and for those who run the care agencies.

    • That is perfectly understandable, and I’m sure there are many who are also anxious about how they will cope. I do pray for you and N. every day. I wish I could offer practical help or a solution of some kind, but I can’t. Please don’t think I’m being flippant when I say I have a good track record of telling HQ that he’ll have to deal with something, and he obliges — usually in good ways I’ve never thought of.

  8. As ever wise words, but as one who is in ‘old’ group, the forthcoming months fill me with sadness. That’s because the joys of family life are what I’ll be missing so much. I’ve got four grandsons aged between nine and two, whom I care for on a regular basis. Not seeing them and their families is breaking my heart. The Sabbath is when we get together and that will have to cease for the forthcoming months. Combined with the directive not to attend large gatherings, which will mean Mass, the prospect us bleak.
    I know I’m not the only one in this predicament and I should count my blessings – one of which is having access to this blog. Keep blogging please dear Sister. You’ve no idea how much good you do.

    • I can understand that. I rarely see members of my own family and am not likely to be seeing them any time soon. I know that’s not the same as being deprived of contact with grandchildren, etc, and that I have the grace of community (a hard grace at times — we don’t choose whom we live with!) but I think one of the lessons to be learned by all of us is to live in the present moment. It’s natural to think about the future, but we can only live now. It is only now that that we can do anything about. A friend reminded me recently that Newman’s ‘Lead, kindly light’ is a text for the times: ‘one step enough for me’. Praying for you.

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