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Spirituality in the Time of Pandemic

Guest post by Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action, José “Chencho” Alas

Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action José “Chencho” Alas planting a tree with his grandkids.

Jorge Gómez Barata, Cuban, a prolific writer, tells us that Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez has given authorization for the English cruise ship MS Braemar, which carries some passengers infected with COVID-19, to dock in Cuba. The ship had already tried to do so in several countries, having been turned down. According to Foreign Minister Bruno: “This is about a health emergency…” Jorge comments: “This is about the duty to assist neighbors at risk.” Of course, they are taking all appropriate measures not to infect the Cuban people. It takes a deep spirituality, love, both to give the cruise ship permission to dock and to care for the infected persons. Jorge ends his article by stating: “COVID-19 should not make us worse.” Positively we must say: “COVID-19 must make us better.”

Spirituality is the source of inspiration and strength that guides us along life’s path to make the best decisions to benefit ourselves personally and to put ourselves at the service of our brothers and sisters. Without it, we fall into materialism and lose all hope. We have to cultivate spirituality in order to receive all its benefits. We need silence to discover its full potential. We must take advantage of this time of tribulation due to the coronavirus so that in silence we discover the richness of the spirit that inhabits each of us and shares messages of peace. We cannot give way to depression, to anxiety.

Spirituality coexisted with matter at creation’s beginning. It existed before us humans.
In Genesis 1: 1-2 we read:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Now the earth was formless and empty,
darkness was over the surface of the deep,
and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (NIV)

According to the Mayans, “The spirit is what gives strength and life to the material, to things, to hills, to land, to animals, to the human being.” “The spirit is not outside of matter or of historical reality.” God’s spirit, which for the Mayans is strength, action and freedom, constitutes the source of spirituality, that is, living according to the spirit.

Without an understanding of the spirit’s presence both within and outside of the universe, we cannot understand the sacred, which Rudolf Otto describes “as the experience that produces the tremendum and the fascinosum, the tremendous and the fascinating. It is the tremendum that makes us shudder at its magnitude, overflowing our ability to endure its presence, a presence whose devastating intensity causes us to flee. And, at the same time, it is the fascinosum, that is to say, that which fascinates us and drags us like an irrepressible magnet, that makes us experience what absolutely concerns us ” (L. Boff, 1996: 150). It is the tremendum and the fascinosum that Moses experiences at the burning bush (Ex. 3: 1-14).

Humanity is ill with the CODIV-19 pandemic, and so is nature. Spirituality calls us to contribute, daily, to reestablish harmony among ourselves and with our Mother Earth. As the Mayans say, we do not rape our mothers; however, what we are doing to Mother Earth is that and more, we are destroying her. We are putting an end to forests, to the rivers. We eliminate thousands of species every year. We poison the air. We kill everything that gives us life or we change it, believing ourselves wiser than nature, such as in the case of genetic modification.

We can cultivate spirituality just as we do so many other things. There are simple methods to nourish it. Prayer is one way, as well as supplication and song; rites; celebration of the sacraments, of Sabbath, of Mayan ceremonies, etc. Not only that, but there are body postures that contribute to feelings of wellness and harmony. For example, according to Zen spirituality, how one breathes promotes deeper levels of consciousness. Rubén L.F. Hábito, author of the book Healing Breath, tells us: “In short, the prescribed way in Zen is simply to breathe in a normal and natural but deep way, focusing on the lower part of the diaphragm, in an area that in Japanese is called hara. You literally breathe with your whole heart and mind, paying full attention to each breath as the air goes in and out. Each breath is received with new freshness, it is lived in each here and now. It is that living in the here and now, focused on the breath, guided by the breath, that will open us to a deeper level of consciousness” (1994, p. 86-87).

It is important to find, at our homes and apartments, some space, either inside or outside,  to serve as a place to meditate, to dialogue with silence, to discover our inner wealth in order to be able to offer it with a spirit of service to others, especially the most materially or spiritually needy.

Culture by itself, with its values and principles, is insufficient for building peace. We need more, we need spirituality, which gives us harmony, inner and outer.  Spirituality is a power that comes to us from within, in the form of the values of authenticity, justice and love, and leads us outside of ourselves to coexist with others.