Togetherness in the Season of COVID-19
Steven McGee and Randi McGee-Tekula have been parishioners of St. John of the Cross for fifteen years. They are co-owners of The Learning Partnership, an educational research small business. They have four adult children, who live in the Chicago area.
It has been five weeks since we made the decision to close our office space and have all of our employees work from home. One week later, Gov. Pritzker gave the order for everyone in Illinois to shelter in place. Who knew back on March 1, the first Sunday of Lent, that the gospel reading on the temptation of Christ would be so prophetic for us all (Matthew 4:1-11)? As Christians, the liturgical calendar reminds us that there are seasons of life. There are seasons of plenty and seasons of fasting. Like Christ, we have been driven to the desert to fast from many things this lent. The greatest temptation of the desert experience is to attempt to circumvent the experience. Jesus could have easily used his powers to ease his hunger by turning stones into bread, relieve his pain by calling an army of angels to tend to him, and ameliorate any self-doubt by subjecting the world to his power. Instead, Jesus reminds us that while we are in the desert we do “not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God,” and that “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” The desert experience strips away the trappings of this world and reminds us of our dependence upon God, who is always near.
Unfortunately, the account of the temptation of Christ in all three synoptic gospels is sparse on the details. Exactly what did Jesus do hour after hour for 40 days? Did he get up every morning, trim his beard, comb his hair, and dress for the day? Or did he let his beard grow for 40 days and stay in the same tunic he wore to bed? Did he have a daily routine involving contemplative prayer followed by active exercise? Perhaps, these details would have been helpful for us during our “shelter-in-place” desert. On the other hand, each of us is unique and needs to find our own rhythm for seeking God while in the desert.
For us the daily routine has become a source of comfort. We find it helpful for us to follow our regular morning routine in getting up at a certain time, getting ready for the day and preparing to “go to work” except that our commute is no longer a 27-mile drive into the city but merely a few steps from bedroom to office. It is tempting to feel that without our daily commute to and from work, we now can use that extra time to get more work done. Instead, we have decided to reclaim our commute time and use it not for extra work but rather for “togetherness”. The morning commute time has been repurposed for a designated midday break. Instead of eating lunch while working as was usually the case, we take the time to pause from work and have lunch together (much like we did while dating). We have also reignited our passion for cooking together. Prior to the shelter-in-place order, we had signed up for Hello Fresh, which sends the ingredients for a meal along with the recipe. We now receive the ingredients for five meals per week and look forward to preparing dinner together each night instead of what would have been our commute home. The experience of cooking together exercises our teamwork, attention to details, problem solving (when we did not pay attention to the details), and even our sense of humor (for those times when we realize an ingredient was never used – “When were we supposed to add this?”). On the weekends, we like to videoconference with extended family members (some well into their 80’s using Zoom for the first time). This technology not only allows us to visit with others bi-coastally or crosstown, but also to watch mass online together and engage in virtual bible study with our children. Over the years, we have found that togetherness is so crucial for focusing on our blessings and keeping a positive outlook in a time of crisis.
Within our daily routine, the liturgical calendar reminds us that every season will come to an end and a new one will begin. Celebrating Easter, during the time of a global pandemic and the isolation of sheltering in place, is a reminder of the hope we have in the love of God. God has won victory over death. St. Paul reminds us that nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even a virus. This season of the virus will eventually come to an end. Let’s pray that as we break our desert fast that we continue to cling to the love of God in seasons of plenty.