by Ken Rolheiser
Covid-19 and a Flowering Mysticism 

Covid-19 is creating fear and panic as well as challenges for growth. Coronavirus triggered suicides, fear of dying alone in isolation, and the guilt and difficulty of grieving where traditional funerals are not possible make these painful times.

Suicide hotline calls are up 300 per cent in the United States. But there is a spiritual upside. Fear of death has led even some agnostics to contemplate hope in an immortal soul beyond this material world.

As with the Black Death, which killed twenty-five million in Europe, our world will have an opportunity to re-order its approach to spirituality during and after Covid-19. As then, many today warn about the judgment of God. Spiritual leaders in the church are turning toward Jesus for the answers.

During the Black Death the Franciscans saw, in the crucified Christ, God’s entering into the suffering of humanity in order to redeem mankind. Julian of Norwich claimed that Christ’s emaciated and bloody body “resembled our foul, black death, which our fair, bright, blessed Lord bore for our sins.” 

Today we witness a growth, a flowering mysticism, as contemporary American theologian Bernard McGinn described the spiritual growth of the fourteenth century. As then, this spiritual growth of today is in religious orders and lay religious life. 

It would be well to remember that “Pain and suffering do not have the final say over human existence. Instead, they become a means by which God redeems souls who, through prayer, follow the footsteps of the crucified.” (“COVID-19 and the Spiritual Life”, Dale M. Coulter, 4 . 14 . 20).

As the medieval Black Death caused a resurgence of individual spirituality, so today we are invited to turn inward and find Christ, in our selves and in our homes. The isolation of Covid distancing has prepared us for this task. Church closures have forced us to find Jesus in our homes instead of seeking him in church.

The coronavirus has presented us with an opportunity for spiritual reassessment. Organized religion seemingly declined even before Covid-19. As a result many now experience “a sick soul, a weariness of heart, an existential dread, a sinking feeling that nothing really matters.” (American Guru-Author Deepak Chopra).

In “The coronavirus and the need for spiritual well-being” Chopra makes three key points: 1. Your soul is the most intimate part of you, and it isn’t found by running away. 2. The spiritual effect of the COVID-19 outbreak cannot be neglected. 3. In a time of crisis, the impulse is to give in to fear, concern and panic, which will engender an epidemic of soul sickness.

Covid-19 affects us physically, mentally and spiritually, Chopra says. The physical response is about self-isolation, social distancing and testing. Mentally our best response involves meditation, yoga, and relaxation techniques to find joy and comfort in your lives.

But in the key area of spiritual effects, the state of our souls, Chopra suggests, we neglect our well being. With the decline of organized religion millions have experienced the “sick soul” described above.

We are in a time of forced soul-searching. We do not need to spend money to find a place of solitude or retreat. We are already stuck inside in isolation, the place we can contemplate a growing mysticism. 

The Grace of Christ’s love still streams toward us from the eternal sacrifice of the Cross. The churches are reopening, and Jesus has not abandoned us.

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