By Dr. Mike Obsatz
These days, I have been thinking a lot about monks and nuns. I’ve been to monasteries and cloisters at different times in my life. I have participated in monastic and silent retreats where you eat, pray, and meditate much of the day. I spent 27 years connected to a spiritual retreat center called Clare’s Well in Annandale, Minnesota. The Franciscan Sisters, Carol and Aggie, did go out — but they also grew their own food, fed their animals, milked their goats and provided sparsely decorated hermitages for people who wanted more alone time.
Today, as we are forced to socially isolate, it may seem like a major hardship. However, it has been and is a way of life for many spiritual people through the world.
Cloistered Monks and nuns typically don’t:
- Go to sporting events, sit in bleachers and eat hot dogs.
- Have pedicures, manicures and massages in offices and stores.
- Go to rock concerts.
- Go to the gym and work out.
- Eat out in restaurants or buy take-out food.
- Socialize in large gatherings.
- Go to cocktail parties.
- Go to large shopping malls and buy a lot of stuff they don’t really need.
- Browse the internet and text their friends all day.
But we have not taken the vows that monks and nuns have taken. So, we have become used to the freedom to go and do whatever we feel like doing. We are spontaneous and rely on our distractions, sensual pleasures and social interactions. As we let go of some of this freedom, we hunker down at home. We go for walks in our neighborhoods and forests. We simplify, and turn inward.
It can be like being in a major Minnesota winter blizzard where there is no way to leave our homes. But this blizzard seems like it is going to last a while. Snowbound and homebound.
Stay home. Maintain social distancing. Don’t participate in larger events. The gyms, restaurants, salons, bars and many stores are all closed for a while. The hardships are many for those whose income depended upon customers showing up and paying. This is for the purpose of keeping us safe and healthy. This is a crucial time to start living more of monastic and cloistered life.
However, we can livestream church services. We have an infinite number of in-home distractions — television, internet, music, telephone.
Maybe there is a blessing in isolating ourselves for a while. Maybe we can become less reliant upon distractions and turn more inward. Maybe this is a spiritual opportunity.
It is a challenging time. It is hard on many people. Those who treat the ill are courageous and knowledgeable. We are grateful for them, and those who were feeding the hungry, and helping the poor and homeless.
People have lost their freedom, their incomes, their health and their opportunities to hug and connect physically.
Let us deepen ourselves and grow in love and a desire to serve others. We can meditate, pray for others, be kind, and be grateful for all the gifts and blessings we have been given.
Maybe out of this can come more kindness, empathy and compassion.
© 2020 Dr. Michael Obsatz, all rights reserved
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