Recently the worldwide number of souls lost to the COVID-19 virus surpassed 1 million. Visualizing that large number of lives cut short touches one’s own soul. We, the living, mourn and seek to understand.
As members of the world community and participants in our own neighbourhoods and congregations, you and I are witnessing the many losses this pandemic has brought. Some of us have in fact lost loved ones and friends, or our own health. Others have lost a job or a place to live. We find it harder to connect with family and others in our support circles. There is a new kind of instability, with struggles in interpersonal relationships and sometimes even violence in our homes. We see an increased sense of polarization in our conversations. Some of us are experiencing an upsurge in discriminatory and hateful behaviours.
So much is uncertain. We are exhausted by this new reality of warnings, precautions, social bubbles, distancing, sanitizers and masks.
Promotion for a recent event at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) observed, “At times, COVID-19 leaves us feeling anxious and forces us to confront life’s fragility. COVID-19 also invites us to think about what we notice and how we see.”
Called “Seeing through the Pandemic: The Art of Noticing,” part of CMU’s Face2Face series, the panel presentation included contributions by a music therapist, a sociologist, a biologist and a philosopher-theologian. (You can watch it here: bit.ly/3jCjOHt)
I was particularly struck by the insights of music therapist Lee-Anne Dowsett, who sees the COVID-19 pandemic as a traumatic experience for everyone. She offers insights into the psychological realities all of us are facing.
“[Trauma] happens when our brain and body systems become overwhelmed in the face of a life-threatening event,” she says. “When this happens, we’re not able to maintain a sense of control over our experiences; we’re not able to stay connected with the people we care about, with the people around us. We have trouble making meaning out of what’s happening because we’re so flooded. Experiencing a trauma, you feel a sense of helplessness and being out of control.”
With these feelings, we find it hard to make good decisions. We may feel exhausted and unable to concentrate. There is emotional distress, including depression and anxiety, which she says has increased 56 percent in recent times. These stresses are leading to increased substance abuse and domestic violence.
Dowsett reminds us that these are natural responses in the face of great challenges. And she offers hope. We can and should seek self-care in these uncertain times.
The church is engaging in courageous efforts to help us still be there for each other. Congregations are finding new ways to worship together and to offer social connections and caring. There are new opportunities for ministry outside church walls. Over the past six months, this magazine has told some of those stories of challenges and creativity. Thank you for sharing your experiences.
It is becoming clear that our Christian community must offer opportunities for us to name and mourn our losses. As individuals, we are invited to seek wellness for ourselves—practicing physical, mental and spiritual self-care. As communities, we keep seizing opportunities to offer caring to others, both within our immediate circles and in our larger neighbourhoods.
How might we as Mennonite Christians continue living in the midst of this pandemic time with courage and caring for all? Let’s keep finding ways. And let’s keep telling those stories.
As a popular email sign-off goes, “Take care.”
A call to young artists
In 2018, Canadian Mennonite started a Christmas tradition we’re hoping to continue again this year. Here is an invitation to submit art to accompany the Christmas feature, which will be published in the Dec. 7 issue. This contest is open to elementary and high school students from Mennonite schools and congregations. All art pieces should address the theme of hope. Submissions can be done digitally or on paper. For more details, see the ad on page 39 of this magazine.