The Coronavirus (Co-vid 19) has already influenced my personal life, financial well-being, work stress, political outlook, and spiritual life without a sniffle. Personally, do I want to attend this event with twenty or so people, young and old, spreading the common cold like candy? Is eating out the thing to do? The gym, a cesspool of germs before Coronavirus, is now a gauntlet of anxiety. This week’s market drops have hurt my college savings and retirement funds. Thousands of dollars wiped off the ledgers.
Employment jitters as we have forced contact with colleagues and the public in tight settings, and almost always, someone has the remnants of illness on display. How will an outbreak affect our business operations? Our health? All of these things speak to life’s temporal nature and our vulnerability to forces greater than ourselves.
The spiritual life is our only constant – or is it! It is our constant but not perhaps in the manner we may think. While God may remain unchanged, the way we seek God and relate to God and each other is always changing. The rituals and traditions are constantly influx as more is revealed to us. As humanity, our spiritual arch continues to grow and develop, albeit in dynamic tension with irresponsibility and inhumanity toward each other. Little things can change the rituals and traditions as subtlety as they became mainstays in our lives.
Today the handshake tradition is under assault. In the middle of the Catholic mass, it is used to express “Peace be with you” to those around you in the church. When expressed in its deepest meaning, infused with the sharing of the mystical body of Christ and combined with a gentle or firm handshake and eye contact, it can be a powerful spiritually reaffirming moment of unity.
Today the moment passed without comment as people universally expressed the phrase verbally with perhaps a gesture or a wave. This is not uncommon for some to bypass the handshake. It was obligatory if you knew you had a cold or sometimes medically fragile people would smile and exchange the verbal substitute. Today though, touch was universally avoided without announcement or decree. Today may be the death of the handshake. If it is, it is a sad day. Touch is a primal need we have from infancy to our time on our deathbeds and everything in between. This, too, may pass and return to normal, but I fear it is not so.
Less surprisingly, the shared wine was also left untouched by many, opting only for the Eucharist wafer. Theologically the body and blood of Christ (bread and wine) are one – so if you have only one, you have received the other. Still, the celebration and the transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ (Transubstantiation) is perhaps the key ingredient of what distinguishes Catholicism from other Christian denominations. Regardless of the definition of the merits of is the wine the actual blood of Christ or a symbolic connection to the last supper, it is another ritual or tradition under assault.
Attendance was also a little lighter for this Lenten period. A town a little south of my home actually has a drive-in church. Perhaps their attendance is virus-proof! Let us watch mass from our homes on the big screen and have amazon deliver the host and wine by drone!
The Co Vid 19 has made me aware of the subtle power of traditions and rituals and what could be lost if they were not present. It also has heightened my awareness of our shared mortality. These inconveniences are good problems to have to wrestle with today.
I am not quarantined on a cruise ship wondering when I will get the virus or if I already have it. I am not in intensive care playing through my life memories and wondering what I will miss if I am called home. No one I know personally right now is on their imminent deathbed from this virus or other life-threatening concerns, though many of us are but a whisper away.
What can we do? Pray, buy good hand sanitizer, have gratitude for today, and leave the rest to God!