Early in the pandemic, I wrote this essay. As we have reached the 500,000 milestone, my thoughts still feel true. If you are struggling to cope, I am available for coaching.
Where is My Holy Water?
That is what Mary asked me. Her church closed its physical doors with the advent of Covid-19. The doors have remained closed for over four months.
“After 911, I called the church, and the leaders opened the doors for the grieving faithful. Seventy-five people came to pray that day. What is different now? How can “they” do this to me?” she asked.
It seems clear what is different now is that Covid-19 is contagious, and safety is the motivator. But I too began to ask some questions. Who are “they” and what, if anything, are “they” doing to me?
This is when the metaphor of the Holy Water began to engage me.
This moment in history is an invitation to reflect on the many sources of holy water within and around us. I have heard many people ask, “When will we get back to normal?” I imagine that eventually churches and spiritual centers will reopen. In the meantime, here is what I am thinking.
The church taught me about many concepts, which as a child I could not understand. I pictured the Communion of Saints as a group of holy men and women, all dead, many by martyrdom, sitting around in heaven waiting for me to pray for their intercession. Mary’s phone call to me, helped me realized WE are the Communion of Saints. WE are the holy women and men, quite alive, being present for one another – right now – during this crisis. WE ARE holy water for each other.
The good sisters and priests taught me that Grace was an invisible thing bestowed on me by the Holy Spirit (which as a child I found pretty scary) and that I got an extra dose of Grace when I received the sacraments. I just had to have faith.
Mary has faith. As she shared her anger about not being able to go to church, she tapped into our universal fear and grief. I listened … and I too tapped into the depth of fear and grief.
“It was grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fear relieved,
How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed!”
We have our feelings. We have Grace.
The church was where I first learned to pray. I memorized The Lord’s Prayer and The Hail Mary as well as the prayers before meals and at bedtime, as I am sure many of you did. I was taught that there were prayers of intercession and of thanksgiving and that I could make up my own prayers too. And I did make up my own prayers, learning how to contemplate and meditate. I continue to use the many variations of prayer in my daily life inside and outside the church walls.
“Let all who thirst, let them come to the water.”
The church also introduced me to rituals, sacred music, sacred scripture, and the sacraments. Do I need to be inside a church to experience any of these? No.
In the age of the internet, I am grateful for virtual gatherings, on-line church, study groups, etc. even though I sometimes feel “zoomed out”. I am grateful for the spiritual leaders and teachers who are making themselves available.
I do believe we need church buildings and spiritual leaders, but during this period of Covid-19 with its drought of external holy water, something profound has changed for Mary and for me. “They” do not have the power to take away church. We are the Communion of Saints, being present for and with each other. We trust in the gift of Grace, and we experience it. We know how to pray, and we do. We create and join in rituals of all kinds. We sing songs of praise as well as lamentation. We use scripture and we celebrate the many sacraments of life.
We are Holy Water.