How are you all feeling? I’ve gone through the gamut of freaked out to cautiously optimistic to excited. Most of the time, I feel encouraged by much of what I see and I feel the profound rightness of this happening at this moment. Yes, there is much that is frightening and painful. But there is much more that is good, I’m convinced of it.
As a friend of mine and priest said in a recent homily:
All of the spiritual disciplines that we do during Great Lent are meant to strengthen us in our love and faith of God for moments just like the one we face today. We fast to reduce the love that we have for ourselves. We increase our prayer rules and Church services to increase the Love and Faith that we have in God. We give alms to strengthen the love that we have for each other. In doing all of these things, we learn to center our lives around God, what He came here to do, and what He continually does for us day in and day out.
This Faith is like a beacon of light amidst the thick fog of life. It remains stationary and steadfast. Faith is what allowed so many men and women to persevere through the persecutions that took place under communism during the time of the Soviet Union. It is this faith that has allowed mankind to persevere throughout all of the plagues and pandemics that have at one time taken over the world, gripping everyone in fear. It is this faith that will once again allow each and every one of us over these next few weeks, to see clearly and to strengthen others who are not able to see above the thick fog that has descended upon the world.
Creating Culture During Coronavirus
I wanted to share some thoughts about how to create culture during this historical moment. Clearly, it is a testing moment for us spiritually and culturally. And I’m surprised–there is more of a common culture than I realized. But it’s still largely on the surface level. So now as we’re quarantined and have all this extra time (well, some of us do 🙂 it occurred to me that now is a wonderful time to think about how to make ourselves better creators of culture.
It all starts, as Ivan Ilyin argues in Foundations of Christian Culture, with your own spiritual culture. The Catholic Bishop Barron had a good video on growing in own’s spiritual concentration during this time of what is basically extra-ascetic Lent. One disclaimer: I don’t recommend you do either the Ignatian spiritual exercises (they’re actually quite dangerous, as St. Ignatius Brianchaninov argues compellingly in The Field) or the rosary. But the first half of the video is about as good as it gets. My own addition would be to read St Nikolai of Serbia’s Prologue of Ohrid, which has wonderful prompts for meditating on the Gospels.
Instead, do the Jesus prayer every day, as directed by your spiritual father. And read St. Ignatius Brianchaninov instead. (And by the way, if some of you are concerned about my recommending a video by a Catholic bishop, I will just be honest and say that it is more concerned with the reality of our eternal salvation than some decrees coming from Orthodox sources, to my great sorrow and shame).
If we start doing this, our own efforts at culture creation will become more profound and powerful to ourselves and others. And this is important, because our culture is telling us right now to double down on Netflix and binge:
Please, don’t start bingeing now!
Now is the time to be active, because it’s not by accident that this has happened. I’m not the only one to feel that a general sense of decadence and lack of energy and lack of desire to do anything, had become pervasive in our culture, fueled by our addictions. Time periods of intense pain, like pandemics, can become therapeutic, if only because they force us to act.
Even more intense are the words of my own father, Fr. Serge Kotar, in a recent missive to his email list:
What the world has forgotten or intentionally ignores is God’s warning: Do not be deceived, God is not mocked. He tolerates evil only to a point. But God does not act without warning. He warned Noah’s world for a period of one hundred-twenty years before He acted. And if we are wise, we will see, without a doubt, that the present pandemic is a very stern warning from God. If we ignore this warning, we will imperil ourselves.
What then must we do? How do we appease God to allow Him to end this pestilence? In the same way that one simple word, sin, desecrated the world, it is only one word that will salvage it. This simple but most powerful word is REPENT! St. John the Baptist and the Savior, Himself, began their salvific missions with this word. It is the word that is repeated again and again in all Christian writings. It is a word that is so powerful that obeying it can remove God’s death sentence, as what happened when the prophet Jonah cried out to the people of Nineveh, and they responded. If the world does not now respond to this and other calls to repentance, the Lord will act.
Sanctify your leisure time
Finally, it’s important that we not discount that well-spent leisure time is also important during this period. But leisure must be also focused and creative, not prone to passivity. (Please, avoid bingeing anything, for your soul’s sake). Here are some more ideas of how to reclaim leisure time for the great purpose of culture creation. After all, much culture is created during leisure time. I will share more ideas of how to do this well in the coming days.
I believe strongly that telling your own story, or at least making it clear to yourself, is imperative right now. If we can’t make sense of our own inner world, how will we make sense of the world outside? And many people are running around spouting absolute nonsense, making people more afraid and angry.
I’m going to be hosting a workshop on how to write your story better this coming Friday. It’s an exploration of Ursula LeGuin’s excellent style guide, Steering the Craft. This workshop will be totally free. I’ll let you know more about it later in the week.
In the meantime, let’s all work on cutting out distractions and enriching our inner world!