What Covid-19 did for me – confessions of a priest.
Today has been the fourth day of my quarantine though technically it’s the sixth and while I continue to be well, I am painfully aware of how this pandemic has played out in the lives of so many people. The loss of loved ones to this disease is fresh in so many minds and fear continues to rule our hearts. The Lord says to us “be not afraid.”
I have displayed little or no symptoms. I did the test on a hunch as my hosts at whose wedding I solemnized informed me that several guests had been tested positive. I felt the right thing to do, considering the congregation I interact with, was to get myself tested. There was no fear when I got the results, just a quiet determination to get well and get back to work as soon as I can.
Covid 19 has thus been for me a time of forced rest; a rest from work and rest with God. Organized as I am, I drew up a daily plan (which ironically also included some work). However, I decided to dedicate a large chunk of my morning to scripture study and to writing; the evening was to be a time of prayer. Covid was telling me something; that It should matter to me that I am available to God than accessible to people every time.
Being the person I am, I have this constant compulsion to answer every text, read ever mail, check every message and be on top of every situation as if my decision would avert a nuclear war. Part of this compulsion and anxiety is also triggered of by the digital age that seems to suggest that every deadline was yesterday; this affects us all.
Recently when I received a second text from an online parishioner for not responding to the question he raised about the three wise men (not that it was important for salvation) I politely informed him that I feel a bit over whelmed with the number of messages I get and it’s not humanly possible to answer all. To this he wrote back telling me that he receives hundreds of messages which ‘he’ dutifully answers. In short, he subtly wanted me to know how incompetent he thought I was and how efficient he was. I refused to turn that one into a pissing contest. I let him have his trophy!
I guess you get thoughtless people and parishioners who think that their questions or situations are pivotal to the globe turning and that you are responsible for not responding asap (which for them means right now if not yesterday). But such kind of pressure also begins to weigh in on the clergy who then think they need to become accessible to every person rather than available to God. Prayer then takes a hit because you are a bad priest if you did not attend to me and God is not offended if you put him on pause.
These last few days have helped me become available to HIM. To be honest even though I pray, I feel these distractions both internally and then there is the phone even during prayer. To help me connect once again to a more sustained time of prayer, I did what I used to do earlier. Set a time for prayer, shut the door, switched off the phone (in fact I left it with my staff) and wrote on your door “DARE not disturb, in a meeting with God!” ( not that they should considering I am isolated).
Ambience also helps. I always picked a place and a spot in every church or chapel that I felt would give me the privacy to talk to God. I need this privacy as I talk rather loudly to him. I a rearranged the living room space in the rectory. That’s one of the privileges of living alone. I made myself my own little chapel where Jesus and I can have a chat together. I look forward to the next ten days when we will spend endless hours chatting.
Music also helps me to connect with God. I am not the silent kind of man, even in prayer. I need the noise to begin and gradually settle in to some quiet time. I suffered for years with my prayer life because of the imposition of my formators who set a pattern and period for prayer. I had to get special permission to take a walk through the seminary campus as part of my morning prayer. I was happiest alone in nature. The last few days I went back to listening to Don Moen hymns and several other worship songs. I was able to make an instant connect to God through song and the louder it played the better for me.
Perhaps you too have fallen off from that deep and devoted prayer life you once had. Entering once again into deep and devoted prayer life is tough but for those who once did it in their youth or experienced it at a retreat or where prayer was three times a day routine in your life, it’s possible to get back to that sacred space. Go back to the place or method you once connected with in order to connect to God. As a seminarian that special place was not the chapel but the terrace of the seminary, behind the water tank. Here I could pray and call out to God as I looked at the Aarey colony forest. I listened to praise and worship recorded on those tapes and replayed it on my Walkman through the earphones.
So, I am grateful for this forced time of rest and ironically grateful for COVID. It is like God’s way of telling me, slow down, come back to me, you are mine. These last few days I just want to be where God is. I don’t want to worship from afar. I am happy I am in his presence.