Did you know that 2020 marks the seven hundredth anniversary of the completion of Dante’s Divine Comedy? How apt.
This post was not going to be about that, but I stumbled across this fact as I was searching for a metaphor about being ‘wounded’. Lost in a dark wood? Bingo. Little did I know in 2019 when took the above picture that it would come to mean so much this year. Only three and a half months before the end of what has been a most remarkable, painful, clarifying, isolating, silent, and tumultuous year, I with many others have experienced a range of emotions.
After spending time investing in myself and my faith via spiritual activities, this latter and warmer part of 2020 is only now starting to slowly improve after six months. The isolation was cold, not only because of our long winter, but in many other ways. Citizens of my city have endured some of the strictest lockdowns for what feels like forever, so the general mood is one of weariness and anxiety mixed with hope, sunshine, and building expectation. Will new virus case numbers keep reducing in the city? Things are looking brighter. Zero deaths for the first time in more than two months. When can I see my friends in the flesh? What happened to my friends who have disappeared and are no longer keeping in touch? Will we ever communicate again? How can I show that I love and care for them when they do not respond? All of this is painful, and a feeling of helplessness prevails in the silent answers. So to return to my intended topic…
We will all emerge from this experience in different ways, and some of us will have hurts which need care and healing. Woundedness as a society is something we all need to talk about and cannot be brushed off. Nor should anyone feel ashamed to ask for the help they need, or just to talk for a while. For months we have been hearing how “we are all in this together” but are we really? We are the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27), and even if some of us are doing better than others, we cannot leave behind those who need ongoing support. There is an obligation for us all to share in the repair of those whose hearts and minds need love and mending.
When this pandemic first swept the world and we were all locked inside working, baking, painting, ‘bonding’, home schooling, improvising recipes, arguing, crying, singing, discovering classes online and just-expired packets of food (which are both still terrific), Zooming or Skyping (for those fortunate to have the money and access to technology), of course the good-hearted intentions and experiences were there aplenty. Amidst the horror unfolding we felt closer while collectively shaking in our boots. Many felt that this was a wake-up call for humanity. Our cities were emptying and becoming hollow haunts of lonely skyscrapers. We cheered for medical professionals working night and day to save lives and protect our communities. We were determined to make sacrifices together to stop the spread of the virus. Perhaps some of us thought that it would be over within a few weeks or at worst a month or two?
While there were and are still many kind and hidden loving acts that people are extending to each other, there has definitely been a shift. As time has gone on, some people have drifted away. Many of us are now doggone tired. People are screen-weary. Zoom has zapped souls dry. Great tools and technology cannot save us. We need human connection. We need hugs. We need God. We need community. Actually, no, we crave these things. Even for introverts like me who enjoy solitude like reading a book on a park bench.
While in many parts of the world we still wait for restrictions to ease, I question any notion that, once this is over or a vaccine is found, we will simply bounce out of our homes and reconnect with our communities as we were before. In fact, I would be concerned if “going back to normal” did happen right now. Not because I am a party pooper, but because we will need to rebuild trust. We need to reflect on what has happened here, and what kind of society we want to rebuild. This includes our churches. We will need to sensitively handle what potentially will be very many raw hearts, minds, and spirits. Perhaps friends disconnected along the way, and we now wonder whether we will ever see them again. How do we handle this?
It is not a matter of “getting on with it” once we come back together, but taking the time to genuinely ask each other, face-to-face: ”how are you going, really? ”, ”what happened to us? ”, “let’s talk about how can we heal together”. These are the kinds of practical conversations we should be having. We need to talk about our woundedness not only through a screen, but in person with no technical delays, emoticons, GIFS (as much as I love GIFS) and after several hundred hugs and silent moments of eye contact. Perhaps we just need to cry together on our knees in a silent and empty church. We will need to talk about this experience and not just get over it, otherwise we would have learnt nothing. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” said George Santayana.
We all carry gashes – some greater and some smaller. We may try to patch them up with ‘things’, activities, qualifications, addictions, comedy, and keeping ‘busy’ so that we will not notice them. We will suffer over and over again until we learn to pay attention, notice, reflect, pray, and talk. The pandemic has forced us to stop and look at these things more closely, not to navel-gaze, but to get real. I now consistently dedicate myself to a daily Ignatian Examen (learn how to do this in more detail). This might be a good place to start within your own heart?
I believe that it is not an ‘accident’ that I found my Divine Comedy picture above and the 2020 anniversary details. When one is wounded one feels lost in a dark forest. We have strayed from the right path. There is no shame in admitting that we have found ourselves in that place, whether we got there because of our own choices and sins or because of things outside our control. We can find recovery and redemption. We can acknowledge that we need to find the God who created us in His own image. We can ask Our Lady of Sorrows who we remember today, to help us, for it was she who “looked on her Son’s wounds with pity, but saw in them the salvation of the world” (Our Lady of Sorrows, Franciscan Media)
700 Years of The Divine Comedy
Dante’s Divine Comedy 2020 – Mark Vernon
Dante’s Divine Comedy – A canto by canto journey for Dante 2020 – Mark Vernon (with videos)
Italy Marks First ‘Dante Day’ Under Coronavirus Lockdown
How Dante Can Save Your Life
10 commandments for a successful life, according to Dante
Image Credit: The MuSinGer