I recently asked a young woman about what ways she has found to profit from the situation of living during a pandemic.
Her immediate answer was that she came to truly value attending church because this is something that had been taken away during to the periods of lockdown. Prior to the pandemic, she would often skip church because of her erratic work hours, but once she had experienced the loss of this possibility that was not on her own terms, she resolved to make church attendance, when possible again, a non-negotiable commitment in her life.
This is a testament that we value that which costs us.
If something costs us nothing, it is natural to expect that we will not value it highly.
And so I am also reminded of the ardour with which persecuted Christians attend church.
Several years ago, I heard the story Bosco Gutierrez Cortina, a Mexican architect who was held hostage by kidnappers attempting to extort a ransom from his family. What struck me most about his story is how he devised a disciplined schedule for himself while is solitary confinement and he resolved to make good use of his time even while being held captive. Stripped of all of his ordinary resources, attachments, and supports, he was forced to discover what he actually had within inside himself. Without books, work, family, community, means of communication, and so much more, Bosco discovered what was a matter of his inner reserves versus what he had not yet deeply interiorized and made his own.
Sometimes I think about this and wonder just how well I know my faith, my family, and my friends. If I lost the ability to worship in community and to communicate with those I love, what would I have interiorly that would sustain me amid such deprival?
These thoughts also bring to mind an anecdote shared by Cicely Saunders, the founder of modern hospice and palliative care. In her biography, Shirley du Boulay writes, “When Cecily offered to read to David Tasma [the man who became the ‘founding patient’ of St. Christopher’s Hospice], thinking to comfort him, he said, ‘No — no reading. I only want what is in your mind and in your heart.’ She never forgot that simple reaction; and mind and heart became twin poles of St. Christopher’s philosophy.”
What do we have inside ourselves with which to comfort the dying? Without props, without activities, without prestige, who do we have to give when someone says, “I only want what is in your mind and in your heart”?
The remarkable poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote more than fourteen thousand letters over the course of his life. A few years ago, an editor published a compilation of selected letters entitled, The Dark Interval: Letters on Loss, Grief, and Transformation.
Here is an excerpt from one of the letters that particularly struck me: