As previous blogs and resources have made clear, the COVID-19 pandemic and the isolation, fear, and uncertainty it has brought in its wake have only made the values 30 Days of Family seeks to promote more important. Today, I don’t want so much to offer you advice on how to manage your family life as remind you of three well-springs of resilience that have made a difference to me and my family. As a priest, I offer them to you as routes to spiritual strength trod by those of my own Christian tradition for over two thousand years, but shared, I believe, by those of many faiths and none.
I want to begin with the same virtue Sheri West did in her blog last week: honesty. Sheri counseled us to acknowledge how difficult, stressful, and uncertain this pandemic is, and to apologize when we when our stress-levels lead us to say or do hurtful things to our family members. I could not agree more. Christians share with our Jewish siblings a rich spiritual tradition of such candor, or “lament,” which is preserved in our Scriptures in books like Job and Lamentations as well as in many of the Psalms. It can be an incredibly powerful and liberating experience to name frankly one’s disappointment, fear, or grief, and for someone to receive one’s witness to it without downplaying or minimizing it. Receiving someone’s disappointment, fear, or grief in this way can be an act of profound love. There is a great deal to name and acknowledge these days, whether the sadness of the illness or death of a loved one or the disappointment of a canceled holiday gathering or professional opportunity or school trip. Allow yourself—or your spouse or your kid—a bad day. Grief is part of what makes us human.
Strive to hold whatever grief or stress you and your family carry right now side-by-side with those good things for which you are continually grateful. It is all too easy for us to lose sight of either side of this emotional equation, or to pretend that one straightforwardly cancels out the other. We and our families need space to grieve and rituals of thanksgiving that ground us in the truth of our lives, which contain causes for both. I’ve been buoyed up by the ritual life of my own Episcopal tradition, whose regular forms for daily prayer give space for “intercession”—the opportunity to ask God’s mercy on those who are sick, suffering, or dying—immediately followed by a prayer of “General Thanksgiving,” the first version of which dates all the way back to the sixteenth century. It reads, in part, “Give us that due sense of all thy mercies that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful; that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives.” Beginning my day with this prayer—and not with the news alerts that come across my phone while I’m yet lying in bed—has been immeasurably consoling to me.
Most consoling to me, though, have been the multitude of ways I’ve been daily confronted by beauty. My family and I—separated by the hundreds of miles between Connecticut and Tennessee and South Dakota—FaceTimed last night to celebrate Easter Day and landed on exactly this: just how important beauty is to us, and where we’d been finding it these difficult days. To paraphrase one of my favorite theologians, the Swiss Catholic Hans Urs von Balthasar, some things are so beautiful that they remind us our world is not all there is, that there exist things unseen to which we nonetheless devote our lives and hearts—like love, and character, and God. Seek such beauty out. Sing your family’s favorite Top 40 tunes. Have a living room poetry slam. Dance with your spouse to “your song.” Take in one of the Met’s fabulous (and free!) nightly on-demand operas. Memorize all the words to Dear Evan Hansen with your kid. Tarry over the daffodils in your flower bed or the cardinal in your yard. Beauty does not negate grief, nor is it reducible to gratitude. It can stitch these two together into something deeper and more sublime: hope.
The Reverend Justin E. Crisp
Father Justin is Associate Rector and Theologian-in-Residence at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in New Canaan