As we start our seventh week of sheltering-in-place we’re still adjusting to new combinations of stillness and stress. And we’re still learning to balance uncertainty with hope. Here’s a few things stirring up hope in my life.
I tried a new bread recipe in my Dutch oven a couple weeks ago. (Is it just me or is everyone making their own bread now!?) The first loaf was delicious. I cut it up and served it with this. I recently made another loaf and added some honey.
I finished Henri Nouwen’s book, Life of the Beloved. It’s his letter to a friend explaining Christian spiritual life to a secular audience. With warmth and compassion, Nouwen invites the reader to live in their true identity, Beloved.
“To be chosen as the Beloved of God is something radically different. Instead of excluding others, it includes others. Instead of rejecting others as less valuable, it accepts others in their own uniqueness. It is not a competitive, but a compassionate choice. Our minds have great difficulty in coming to grips with such a reality. Maybe our minds will never understand it. Perhaps it is only our hearts that can accomplish this. Every time we hear about ‘chosen people’, ‘chosen talents’, or ‘chosen friends’, we almost automatically start thinking about elites and find ourselves not far from feelings of jealousy, anger, or resentment. Not seldom has the perception of others as being chosen led to aggression, violence, and war.”
— Henri Nouwen
Walks or bike rides with Aaron have been good reminders of beauty. We walk around the neighborhood or nearby trails, and sometimes skip the walk and take a scenic drive instead. In the past couple weeks we’ve explored Walden Pond and the trails in Minute Man National Historic Park.
“Digital Minimalism: A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.”
Our family has been experimenting with a no-social-media-life. Aaron left social media a year ago and I’ve been taking more frequent and longer breaks from Facebook and Instagram in the past few months. Almost as long as we’ve been married, we’ve deactivated or signed off of Twitter and Snapchat, and haven’t downloaded TikTok or any of the other more recent apps.
Even in the midst of COVID-19, social distancing, and remote work, we’re not itching to see what everyone else is doing. It probably looks similar to what we’re doing: staying home. We catch the news from our state’s website our local NPR station, and one or two other online newspapers or non-profits. It certainly cuts down on the amount of irrelevant clutter or distractions.
(I’ll take this moment and say that while narrowing our intake of information, we have not simply cut out opposing views in favor of sources that are likely to “agree” with us. Selective media exposure, according to research, has consequences. In limiting our intake of digital media we have been conscious of this. Well-rounded media consumption can still happen in thoughtful, small portions.)
When I was initially debating a minimalist approach, I wasn’t sure if I would be successful. I gave myself a few questions to consider.
What causes me to pick up my phone and check these apps?
How are these posts edifying my life or the community I live in?
How does scrolling through my feed make me feel afterwards?
My answers to these questions will probably look different than yours. Maybe you enjoy a 24 hour break. Or maybe you’re looking for a long-term change. I know that my online presence can directly influence how I handle anxiety and how I interact with others in real life. But this isn’t a universal experience.
“We all need empty hours in our lives or we will have no time to create or dream.”
— Robert Coles
Observations I’ve made in my own life since signing off:
In the past two months neither of us have had access to the “normal” feed of photos, articles, and memes and have not felt FOMO (fear of missing out) or uninformed.
Social media is a place to share your life but you are not obligated to friend/follow the lives of anyone and everyone around you. I’ve “unfollowed” most of my “friends” on Facebook so my feed is now very brief. (Don’t worry, we’re still friends. I just don’t see everything you post.) If I were to sign on, I now only see the posts from a few family members and close friends.
Sourcing news from social media is not the only way to stay updated on important events and changes in your community. By taking news related media (and many of the well-intentioned opinions of Facebook) off of my feeds, I’d say I feel better informed by going straight to the sources. (Take this chance to strengthen your media literacy!)
My digital presence feels different based on if I’m using my phone or laptop. My laptop does not follow me into the bedroom, but my phone usually does since it’s my alarm clock. My laptop is more often used for writing and more professional endeavors, while my phone is seen as more casual.
Simply deleting the apps from my phone and signing off made me less likely to jump back in. Making it harder to access my feeds, makes it easier to find something else to do.
Things I’ve done instead of scroll: take longer walks, spend time cooking & baking new recipes, reading, several projects around our apartment, complete a sewing project or two, weekly counseling sessions, painting, sort and organize for our upcoming move, and of course, enjoy moments of boredom.
“All television is educational television. The question is: what is it teaching?”
— Nicholas Johnson
All that to say, I’m definitely not anti-social media or digital consumption. It’s a wonderful tool for connection and creativity, and sharing pieces of our lives. I look forward continue to use it thoughtfully, especially as it has become vital for so many during COVID19. I love having the instant access to inspiration, new and old friends, and sharing what interests me.
Have you considered jumping off social media or taking a different approach to your digital life?
Most days at I try to get out and walk around our neighborhood. Our suburban town has a nature trail I sometimes walk but other days I opt for the sidewalk that takes me by rows of older homes, bits of main street, and some historical remnants of what used to be Salem.
Even with the guidance of physical distancing and wearing masks people are pretty quick to wave and say hello as we walk past each other. I’ve also noticed teenage siblings shooting hoops outside with their family pup, a parent regularly outside with their little one, and several neighbors chatting over the fences. These are relatively small interactions but now they seem so much more meaningful. Physical touch, face to face conversations, sharing a meal — our social interactions have significantly shifted from what we were used to.
I’ve taken a lot of this for granted. Now tucked away at home my days blur together and there’s little change in the day-to-day routine. I’m “homesick” for the people who have helped make this corner of Massachusetts “home” and I’m sad to have cancelled travel plans with family, my original “home.”
The following song feels especially relevant during this time. The small things I’ve overlooked for so long, are becoming the primary sources of life for me: taking great care in preparing meals, both by planning for a trip to the store and trying new recipes, selecting a new book to read, driving, being outside and waving hello to a fellow trail-walker, among other things. These are the tender mercies of my new normal.
“Oh, the deeds forgotten; oh, the works unseen Every drink of water flowing graciously Every tender mercy, You’re making glorious This You have asked us Do little things with great love Little things with great love”
Recognizing these small-but-significant gifts of wonder and beauty has made the uncertain days a little easier.
I do recognize I have the privilege of staying home, slowing down, working remotely, and avoiding much hardship with this change of pace. There are others who have much different experiences: survivors of domestic violence, the unemployed, healthcare and essential workers, the elderly and homeless, others without access to vital resources, and those dying alone. Their suffering is not forgotten.
“In the kingdom of the heavens, no suff’ring is unknown Each tear that falls is holy, each breaking heart a throne There is a song of beauty on ev’ry weeping eye For there is One who loves me His heart, it breaks with mine”
I lament the toll this virus has had around the world and the fear it carries with it. I watch the numbers rise each day in our county and state and find myself feeling helpless sometimes. I have no answers to offer, other than the encouragement to walk with great love in all you do.
“Oh give us ears to hear them and give us eyes that see For there is One who loves them I am His hands and feet
For there is One who loves them I am His hands and feet”
In our corner of the world we are working remotely, staying home, and slowing down in hopes to slow the growth of COVID19 cases. The first week or so was new and sort of exciting but by now it’s set in that life will continue to look different in the coming months. I’m sure we all have mixed feelings about the forced slow-down. I know I do.
If you find yourself in a new rhythm of life, you may also find a little bit more room for family time, walks outside, solitude, preparing meals, or whatever else springs up when you’re at home.
As you recalibrate your routine, consider adding a new (or beloved) form a prayer, lectio divina. This form of prayer can be done individually or with a group.
“By its very nature, meditation is a discipline that enables us to slow down and respond with intentionality to the truth. We might compare this kind of reading to an extended meal that lasts through an evening, where each morsel and course is savored without hurry. We pause, consider, ruminate and take it in at a moderate pace, realizing that if we move too quickly we will miss something important.”
I won’t overcomplicate this type of prayer by getting too detailed, so if you’d like more information I’ll include a few resources at the very bottom. Essentially, there are only 4 elements. All you need is a passage of scripture and a notebook and pen if you’d like to jot down your thoughts.
“…the lectio divina honors the historical and human character of the Bible. It is important to stress that this kind of reading of Scripture takes the nature of the Scriptures seriously…We do not honor the Scriptures when we do not honor the way in which God brought them into being. Scripture has a fundamentally human character that must be respected if we are to appreciate its divine character.”
Begin by reading or listening to a passage of scripture. The passage does not need to be too long; 10-15 verses will do. Many suggest reading the passage 2-3 times either silently or aloud.
What is the scripture’s literal meaning?
After reading or listening to the passage, meditate on the text for a few minutes. Don’t be afraid to use your imagination to picture yourself in the passage. Consider how the scripture is relevant in your own life. Does anything stick out?
Where do I see myself in this passage?
When you feel ready, respond with prayer. Aloud or silently, spontaneous or with a prayer book, long or short — how you respond is up to you.
How will I respond to God?
The final step is to contemplate how to practically apply what you’ve just read, meditated on, and prayed about in your day-to-day life.
Where in my life can I implement what I’ve learned?
“Guided meditative prayer sessions which help you slow down and listen for the truth that is being born out of God’s love for you today. Imaginative and contemplative prayer with gospel stories, psalms and other scripture, drawing on Ignatian Spirituality and Lectio Divina.”
“Caring for your soul is vital to living a peace-filled and purposeful life. Join author and host, Whitney R. Simpson, for a regular dose of peace and calm for your breath, body, and spirit as you explore these practical mediations. Using yoga teachings and ancient spiritual tools such as the Prayer of Examen, Lectio Divina, and Breath Prayer, allow Whitney to companion you on your spiritual formation journey.”
“This is a facilitated space for you to slow down and be still in the presence of God. Whether you are listening with a group, on your way to work, cleaning your house, or in a focused time of devotion, may your heart and mind be filled with peace.”