COVID-19 and Lent in Geneva

COVID-19 and Lent in Geneva
Andy Willis

EmptyStreetAndycropThe skin on my hands is cracked and dry from all the washing and sanitizing. On the bike ride to church, there’s almost no traffic around me. The Old Town is quiet, the cafés nearly empty at noontime on a sunny spring day; soon they will be closed indefinitely.

We are in the middle of a season of Lent unlike any I have ever experienced. Without much choice in the matter, we are all giving up lots of things this year, many of them very difficult ones: school, in-person worship services, face-to-face meetings with friends. It’s right that we fast from physical contact with others right now, and at the same time we are all feeling the profound strangeness of this moment.

Today I’m thinking about the difference it makes that we are experiencing a global pandemic in the middle of the season of Lent. What resources does this particular season offer us for the difficult and anxious time we are going through? Here are a few ideas.

It was late January when I settled on the book for our congregation to read this Lent. Little did I know then how timely its theme would be. Lent groups are working their way through Holy Solitude, a series of daily reflections on the solitary experiences of people of faith. It’s a lovely book, but we are reading it in an atmosphere of isolation I hadn’t pictured at all a couple of months ago. Groups are meeting virtually to discuss the chapters on topics like “Solitude and Silence,” “Solitude and Struggle,” and “Solitude and Confinement.”

I appreciate the distinction Heidi Haverkamp makes in the book’s introduction between solitude and loneliness: “Solitude is chosen and purposeful,” she writes. “It isn’t loneliness, but the practice of a deep integrity.” I realize that doesn’t perfectly describe our situation right now: none of us chose this context of isolation we are in. But there’s an invitation here nonetheless to approach this experience from a place of deep integrity. How will you inhabit these days when your life has been upended and when, in many cases, you have much less in-person contact with others than normal? In this strange time, where can you see opportunities to open your heart to God and to others?

Lent is a time for recommitting ourselves to the practice of prayer. We all know it’s important and part of our lives as people of faith; and we also know how easy it is for our prayer to become sporadic or undisciplined. A morning dose of news headlines or social media can easily replace time set aside for prayer.

Let’s take this season’s invitation to renewal in prayer seriously. You don’t need anything special to pray, of course: you can simply find a quiet place, breathe deeply, and begin sharing your thanksgivings, joys, and concerns with God. Many find it also helps to have a bit more of a framework. Here are a few that I find helpful:

  • The Lutheran World Federation has created a simple guide for daily prayer this Lent, called Together on the Way of the Cross. You’ll find a short introductory prayer and scripture reading for each day.
  • Pray as You Go is a ministry of the Jesuits in Great Britain that offers a beautifully produced daily prayer session. Each includes a scripture reading, meditative music, and prompts for individual prayer and reflection. You can either listen to the daily reflections directly on the website or download the app on your phone.
  • Centering Prayer is a contemplative Christian practice that many in our congregation have learned through workshops and local groups. You don’t need extensive training to begin. If you’re looking for a practice aimed at tending to the presence of God and welcoming the movement of the Spirit in your own life, you can read about Centering Prayer and begin on your own. A local group is meeting virtually as well, and you can contact me if you wish to join.

    The Fragility and Beauty of Life
    As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise, both locally and throughout the world, we are finding abundant reminders of life’s fragility. Along with those headlines, we have the opportunity right now to pay attention to beauty as well. To the snow sparkling on the mountains visible from town; to the flowers beginning to blossom; to the thunderous applause throughout Geneva last night during the demonstration of solidarity and support for health care workers and first responders.

    The season of Lent began with ash on our foreheads and the words “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Those words tell part of the story—that life is fragile, that none of us will live forever. The faith we proclaim this Lent tells more of the story—that God loves this messy, beautiful, holy world, and that in Jesus, that love always has the last word: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

    It is that faith we cling to as we continue to pray, to worship, and to offer support and care this season.

    Photo credit: Sivin Kit