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The Great Teacher

As part of my meditation time a couple Sundays ago, I was using the process of lectio divina. Lectio divina is a contemplative practice of reading scripture with the intention of intuitively discovering a word or phrase that “sparkles” or has high energy for you and then meditating of what those words are trying to tell you. This practice is nothing like a traditional bible study and can be used with any sacred text or really any text for that matter to allow personal messages from the Holy to arise.

On this particular day, I was reading the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. As I read the passage, the line that “sparkled” for me was when Jesus was on his way to see Lazarus’ family and Lazarus’ sister Martha whispered in her sister Mary’s ear, “The teacher is here and is asking for you.” I wondered why this seemingly insignificant line was speaking to me. I opened up to the message from the Holy and it came.

This situation with COVID-19 is a teacher and it is asking for me and you and all of us to be its students. It is not a punishment. It is not a judgement. It is not a retribution. It is a teacher. Aren’t all the challenges, the obstacles, the stretches of suffering in our lives our teachers? I felt myself being asked to be open to its lessons, its opportunities for growth.

Years ago as I was studying about post-traumatic stress disorder, I stumbled on the concept of post-traumatic growth. I always knew in my heart that it existed, but I had never heard the term before. We do not choose trauma for ourselves. We do not have to welcome it. But we can welcome the ways in which it helps us to reflect on ourselves and our lives, to grow and stretch, to expand our perspectives.

Usually the messages I receive from lection divina feel very personal, but this time it felt like a collective message and so I wanted to share this with you. As a culture, as a world, I believe we are being asked to pay attention to the lessons of this experience. How are we being asked to grow, to shift both personally and collectively? How are we being asked to live and love differently?

I know from the work I do as a spiritual director that everyone has their own unique experience with this situation. Some are out of work, some are working more than ever, some are working lightly from home, some are frightened, some are relaxing into spaciousness they’ve never had before, some are hustling, some are resting, some are chasing kids all day long, some are very alone. But there is something here for all of us to learn. There are ways for each of us to grow, regardless of our circumstances.

I want to make it clear that I am not minimizing the gravity of this situation. I am aware that there will be much death and destruction along the way and my compassion flows out to all who are in its path. However, despair comes from giving up hope, from believing that there is nothing we can do but get swept away by the suffering. And yet, there is something we can do. We can continue to take responsible measures to keep ourselves and others safe, and we can slow down our minds enough to listen to what this teacher has to tell us.

I have already learned so much. I have learned that I do not need nearly as much toilet paper as I thought I did and I’ve grieved for all the trees I’ve unnecessarily wasted. I have learned that there is very little I can buy in a store that I need to be safe and happy. I’ve learned that most things I thought were urgent are in fact not urgent at all and that more spaciousness in my life is good for the soul. I've learned that I can live with more ambiguity than I thought I could and trust in the mystery of life, even when I am surrounded by uncertainty. I’ve learned that overall, people really do care about each other, enough to put their own lives at risk or on hold in order to protect their families, their loved ones, and even strangers. I continue to be open to the lessons yet to come.

When this passes (and believe me, it will), I don’t want to just go back to the way things were. I want to be better. I want to be wiser. I want to have more compassion for myself and others, to be more connected to my fellow human beings than ever, to be more thoughtful of the way I use my resources. I want to be stronger, more flexible, more resilient. I want to have a deeper understanding of what’s most important in this life, what matters most. Business as usual is no longer an option for me. The teacher is here and is asking for me… and for you. Ok, teacher, I’m listening.

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