Reflections on Quarantine

Jun 3, 2020

In addition to serving as the Director of the Associates for the Sisters of Bon Secours, Amy Kulesa also leads some of our retreats at the Retreat & Conference Center. She oversees and often facilitates our weekly Centering Prayer sessions and this December she’ll be leading a Centering Prayer weekend retreat during the Advent season. You can click here to learn more about her. Let’s read Amy’s thoughts about the quarantine and what we all may be able to gain after the pandemic.

Reflections on Quarantine

In February and March, life carried on for most of us in familiar routines, both societally and through the Church’s Lenten season. Little did we know what awaited us in mid-March, when state governors issued an unprecedented shutdown of nearly all societal public activity.

In our own time, the only things that approximate this shock for the American people are the aftermath of September 11, 2001, or earlier, the assassinations of President Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King or Bobby Kennedy, and the riots following the beating of Rodney King by police. In the past week, we have seen another racially motivated homicide, that of George Floyd, by U.S. law enforcement, and the responding protests all over our country. This recent violation of justice, on top of the Covid-19 pandemic and quarantine, have sent shock waves through American culture, and have permeated, like never before, every aspect of cultural life. These days are extraordinary. They were unexpected, and, as we’ve seen, unprepared for in both large and smaller contexts.

Speaking to the Covid-19 pandemic, during the past three months, we have had to learn to do without, to retreat from habitual and meaningful patterns of commitment, and to withdraw from a level of consumption and frenetic activity which now, we see, both sustained our economy but often enough drained our ability to be fully present to our lives. People have become ill and died, and many have recovered. Families have lost loved ones, and many others have re-found one another through these months. Many have labored throughout this crisis, at the risk of their own and their families’ health, to support our ill and our infrastructure. Many, many others have lost jobs and businesses. Faith communities have had to dig deep and creatively to find ways to continue worshipping together and sustain outreaches to the needs of the poor that have only increased during this crisis. It is a multi-dimensional, worldwide experience of full-stop, regrouping, crisis management, and extraordinary compassion.

The word quarantine comes from quarantena, meaning “forty days.” It was used in the 14th–15th-centuries Venetian language and designated the period that ships were required to be isolated before passengers and crew could go ashore during an epidemic of the bubonic plague. We hear, also, the echo of another significant “forty days,” in which a young Jewish itinerant rabbi went out into the desert before starting his world-changing public ministry, and was tested. The Scripture records that Jesus was called out into the desert by the Spirit. I wonder if he expected this, or if he followed an inner voice that soon led him to both a spiritual and physical landscape where he quickly realized that he might, very well, be over his head. He did battle with forces that strengthened his self-understanding and focused his sense of personal call and mission. Much that was extraneous and “spectacular” (fame, short-term sustenance, power) fell away in the stark realization that God was All, and God was all he needed.

As you have quarantined, what tempting distractions have fallen away from your landscape during these weeks and months? What simpler, essential realities have become more visible to you as we have dwelt in this isolated “desert” of sheltering-in-place, including that of the call for justice in our society? When we return, will you be changed, and how? These are questions that occupy my reflection. I both grieve the losses, which will continue, and look expectantly for what wisdom, creativity and tempered sense of cultural willfulness will emerge from our collective grief and extended time of retreat. As Jesus found within himself during and after his testing experience, may we be able, also, to access deepened wells within ourselves of compassion, healing and liberation, reflecting the Bon Secours charism and mission. An expression of the mission of the Sisters of Bon Secours and their many associated ministries is “to help people to wholeness.” What a beautiful, all-encompassing vision of care and humble service to humanity and all of creation, one we can each take part in in our own small, unspectacular ways.   Perhaps a fruit of our desert time will be the replacing of some of the grandiose visions of our consumer American mega-culture with a simpler, more local commitment on the part of each of us to stand with and be present to one another in heartfelt and loving, human ways.