Some Dominican nuns in Summit, New Jersey are sewing feverishly, turning out hundreds of masks for a local hospital. When news of this reached others they got more requests. Elderly nuns in their order needed gowns for their infirmary. Chaplains in New York City needed personal protective equipment too.
Even for all their industry the nuns believe that their greatest contribution in this moment is to pray. Holding the world in prayer is a powerful gift to others. Calling on the Holy Spirit for the sake of the sick or the worried is their biggest contribution in this pandemic.
The life of prayer was invented during another pandemic. It happened 1500 years ago when Rome was under siege from within. Rome’s military days of triumph were over. The economy was a mess. Justinian’s Plague was rampant in the city. Against that backdrop St. Benedict invented a new way to be. He told people you did not need to be wealthy or well placed to be happy. What you needed was days with balance- times to work and rest, times to pray throughout the day. He said people would thrive in communities where they lived separately but worked together and greeted strangers with openhearted generosity. Benedict’s vision as worked for 15 centuries of monastic life.
Most of us don’t aspire to be monks or nuns. Many people today wont only to get back to normal - whatever that means for them. But I think this vision of balance is a good guide for us still especially now. As we shelter in place we are called to work, but not all the time. We are called to think of others, and be generous with what we have. We are called to enjoy the quiet and draw peace from it for our souls. Yes, we are invited to pray, throughout the day in whatever way we can.
Admittedly this is a very different time and a different pandemic. But I keep wondering what we might learn from the monks and nuns about how to manage and even thrive under the constraints in our lives today. What would it mean to thrive in this moment? What would it mean to create lives of balance that will sustain us for as long as we need it to? What would it take to see prayer, not as a last resort, but a welcome place to give voice to our deepest fears and hopes? What would it mean to invite the Holy Spirit in?