“Coronavirus is of such a magnitude that future historians who write books in the 2050’s will divide post-war Britain into BC and AC – Before Corona and After Corona. I think it’s that significant.” Peter Hennessy, BBC Radio 4
“Are we really ready for a pandemic? Not so much for the virus itself as the personal sacrifices and inconveniences that might follow… This isn’t just a test of clinical resources but a test too, in some ways, of [our] willingness to put ourselves out for others.”Gaby Hinsliff, Guardian
“Pandemics hold up a mirror to society and force us to ask basic questions: What is possible imminent death trying to tell us? Where is God in all this? What’s our responsibility to one another?” David Brooks, New York Times
These quotes sum up the historic moment Covid-19 has placed us in. As historian Peter Hennessy went on to say, a global crisis of this magnitude hasn’t been faced since World War II and will have lasting effects on our societies. Hinsliff and Brook’s words, written just before the pandemic broke, have been echoed in a thousand media reports on self-isolation and other contagion-fighting measures, plus the ‘contagions’ of fear and panic buying. The world is now talking about virtue. Will we do what’s needed to help not just ourselves, but vulnerable strangers too?
Coronavirus is placing our economic and health systems under unprecedented stress, not to mention many of us personally. Each day brings new concerns for elderly parents, infected friends and neighbours, and maybe even our own livelihoods. (In the space of a few days I lost half my annual income in cancelled speaking engagements. Others will face worse. And we haven’t even talked about those who will die from the virus itself.)
These are testing times. Where will we find the inner resources to cope with the inherent anxieties ahead and rise to consider others?
A Practice for You
Yesterday afternoon, feeling overwhelmed at the news I was hearing, I took a moment to do what I often do in times of stress – journal. During that time I remembered a breath prayer I wrote last year based on some words from the apostle Paul. A breath prayer is a simple, short prayer said in a single breath. It’s very helpful in times of busyness and stress as it can be prayed while working or during a short break.
You pray the first line slowly breathing in
and the second line slowly breathing out
The words I based the prayer on are timely, I believe, because in moments like this it’s hard to fight fear and be altruistic through willpower alone. We need to be empowered to be virtuous. And so here comes the gift: Paul says that when we ask, God’s Spirit will fill us with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Think about how valuable each of these qualities is right now.
So here’s the breath prayer I wrote, for you to try or adapt. Find a quiet place, sit still for a moment, then try praying each line breathing in for 3 seconds, then out for 3 seconds.
First line (in one, two, three)
Second line (out four, five, six)
Try praying it one or two times each day, repeat-praying any lines you particularly need more of. Don’t worry about reading it to begin with. In time you’ll memorise it. Forget about the timing too, just breath slowly and focus the words on God.
The Breath Prayer
Lord God, fill me with your Holy Spirit.
I receive your love,
and release my insecurity
I receive your joy,
and release my unhappiness
I receive your peace,
and release my anxiety
I receive your patience,
and release my impulsiveness
I receive your kindness,
and release my indifference
I receive your goodness,
and release my ungodliness
I receive your faithfulness,
and release my disloyalty
I receive your gentleness,
and release my severity
I receive your self-control,
and release my self-indulgence
Richard Foster once described holiness as “doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done.” It’s an intriguing definition that makes sense in times like these. Do we Christians have the discipline and virtue to respond faithfully in this moment? A prayer like this might help us move some steps forward.
A year ago today I released a book about life not going as planned. The Making of Us feels eerily more relevant now! As we all try to grasp what the Coronavirus means for us and other, I’ve been asking myself if I really believe what I’ve written in that book.
Can closed doors really allow new adventures to begin?
Can losing an identity really help us discover who we really are?
Can adversity really release our best gifts into the world?
And you know what? I do believe it. Despite all the uncertainty, I do.
This season of self-isolation is a good time to grow through reading and audiobooks. If you’d like to help a freelancer out, please add The Making of Us to your list :). You can get it at Amazon, Koorong and elsewhere else, and the audiobook is available too. I’ll record a personalised ‘welcome’ video if your small group chooses to read it together also (request that here).