COVID-19 Spirituality

COVID-19 Spirituality

In a speech in 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.”

The Corona virus has been a profound disappointment…

Plans have been shattered. Lives and businesses are in tatters. How do we preserve hope in hopeless times?

Returning to the basics has anchored many in hope for better days, simple things like gardens, baking, and long conversations with loved ones.  Long neglected, many are returning to their spiritual core. I propose a COVID-19 spirituality, tailored-made for the times, to facilitate your return to your spiritual core.

We humans, moreover, are wired to experience joy and happiness. Even during difficult times, we yearn to stay mentally fit, optimistic and happy, ready to face what life may bring. A COVID-19 spirituality contributes to this disposition by recommending spiritual practices that aid our mental health and sense of well-being even during these times of disappointment. These practices are: contemplation, Lectio Divina, mindfulness, compassion, purposeful ritual, and simple abundance.

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Like anything in a society, both religion and spirituality are influenced by what occurs in a given society. The socioeconomic events of a society have a profound impact on both the reality and practice of spirituality.  For instance, monasteries proliferated during the demise of the western half of the Roman Empire (476 C.E.) as a response to the violence that occurred when civil authority accounted for nothing.  The chaos and societal malaise impelled religious leaders like St. Benedict (480-543 C.E.) to seek peace and serenity in a structured way in community. He founded monasteries based on his rule that fostered community in a Roman world that was cracking up. These monasteries would subsequently be a factor in the cultural formation of European nations, contributing to a new reality after the fall of Rome. The monasteries found themselves in a fruitful, liminal period out of which they forged a new culture.

Medieval cathedrals, moreover, were the product of the new-found confidence that the West experienced in the 13th century through an increase in wealth and population. The corresponding spirituality that emerged was aesthetically informed. The Social Gospel of the late 19th century was the product of the modern world’s progressivism that humans can fix any social problem if they put their minds to it, especially the intractable problem of poverty. The spirituality that derived from that era was an active involvement in organizations like the Salvation Army that were committed to the reform of society.

Needless to say, COVID-19 is a profound social and economic crisis for us and the world. Never before has the world’s economy shut down for what is now just over two months.

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Relative to America, this is having a devastating impact on every aspect of our culture, especially religion. Religion is changing right before eyes, as churches, synagogues and mosques have closed up. Inasmuch as people do not have access to their objective rites and traditions in community, how does this change spirituality, the experience of God?  What do people need from God?

We can speak of a COVID-19 spirituality. What might a COVID-19 spirituality look like in the confines of your homes?

We are living in a liminal period, an in-between period that is readying us for something new. We have no idea what that new reality will be.  Understandably, there is anxiety. We clamor for the life we knew before the Corona virus. We go through the stages of grief over the loss of our former lives characterized by freedom and prosperity. Our feelings run amok between denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. We have to accept that we are in a liminal period, awaiting the new thing God is about to do, a period fraught with possibilities. A liminal period can be most fruitful if we, like St. Benedict, focus on opening ourselves up to God, finding strength, security and creativity in God.

The Corona virus, moreover, has alerted us to a truism that we have long ignored: We must live as though we do not know what is ahead. To live that way pushes us back onto the present moment to live in the here and now. To live in the here and now is to accept both love and fear, both light and darkness, both change and stasis, and both procession and recession in ourselves and in the society.DSC01531

I believe the following is the key elements of a COVID-19 spirituality:

COVID-19 has isolated us from community. Many of us are alone. We are alone with our thoughts and feelings. A cauldron of emotions is boiling as we think about what lay ahead. We fret over whether we can retrieve our former lives. We need a place where we can process those emotions, so that we do not get stuck in any of them.

Christian Contemplation

This aloneness we are experiencing is ideal for the promotion of the practice of contemplation. Contemplation is the first element of a COVID-19 spirituality. Contemplation lends itself well to processing emotions, as it invites us to fully experience feelings in the context of silence; it also invites us to let go of those feelings. Contemplation, then, creates space for processing negative thoughts as well as positive ones. As we rifle through a torrent of negative thoughts, we dare not fixate on them, because they can be most destructive.

Contemplation, moreover,  invites you to be alone with the Alone. Contemplation is a not a form of prayer to aid in decision making. It is a prayer that gives room for reflection on someone greater than you, to enjoy God’s goodness, kindness, love and mercy. Can we sit with our inadequacies in the context of a breath-produced silence before the all-loving One, the all-merciful One, the Father of Jesus? Ten to twenty minutes of focused, measured breathing in the morning and in the evening can help you quell your emotions and get you out of your head and thereby ground you in reality, in the here and now.

Lectio Divina

Another form of prayer that would contribute to a COVID-19 spirituality is Lectio Divina. Earlier we spoke of St. Benedict and the rule he established that created monasteries that became foundational to the formation of Europe. Lectio Divina was his creation. It constitutes a deep reading of the scriptures in the context of prayer. St. Benedict’s liminal experience proved to be fruitful because he read scriptures with his whole being, not just the head. The practice of Lectio Divina will cause you to appreciate that scriptures are the living Word of God that still speaks, especially now in this moment of crisis.


Contemplation and Lectio Divina contribute to greater mindfulness. Mindfulness is the third element of a COVID-19 spirituality. Pain opens us to mindfulness. Pain stops us in our tracks and causes us to reflect deeply on our lives. Pain makes us conscious.

In our lives before the Corona virus crisis, we darted back and forth mindlessly from one experience to another. The social and personal ramifications of the Corona virus crisis have caused us to assess our lives in ways like never before. We have concluded that we have not been participants in our own lives. Mindfulness merely means paying attention to life. There is an objective world outside us that offers possibilities for joy if we would engage it by surrendering our overemphasis on subjectivity. As we do so, we find ourselves experiencing more joy and gratitude. Joy and gratitude contribute to happiness.


The fourth element of a COVID-19 spirituality is compassion. The virus reminds us that we live in an interdependent world. What we do in the West impacts the rest of the world. The modern world gave us the idea that the created order is merely a machine to be exploited. This worldview wreaked violence in the environment. We now see that the environment is not a machine; it is organic, a living thing. How we live in the environment creates the conditions that facilitate life. How we live impacts the environment and the environment in turn impacts us.

The modern world, moreover, used Genesis 1:28 as a warrant to exploit the earth. In that text, God told Adam and Eve to subdue the earth and have dominion over it. The Hebrew word there is kabash. We speak of putting the “kabash” on someone as squashing them from a position of strength. The charge of dominion (kabash) was given to Adam and Eve before the fall. Before the fall, their reigning over nature was like that of the philosopher-king/queen who rules with equanimity, justice and reason. After the fall, however, kabash became perverted by unbridled use of imperial power. The modern world pulled Genesis 1:28 out of context to justify its Social Darwinism. The modern world also pulled out of context the story of Noah’s cursing of his son Ham and made it the justification for enslaving people of African descent.

I said all that to say that we have to be sensitive to how we use scriptures. We cannot use our sacred texts as a way to exert power over people, to hurt and stifle their humanity. Compassion for people, animals, and the environment is the order of the day. Living in an interdependent world demands compassion of us, and it impels us to be cognizant of how we use our Bible. We cannot use it to conquer and divide people. The modern world was masterful at conquering and dividing people. Jesus demonstrates a new use of power: He shares power, so that in his spiritual kingdom power is about power with, not power over others.

Purposeful Ritual

The fifth element of a COVID-19 spirituality is returning to the importance of ritual as the integration of mind, body and soul. Ritual and sacred space give due attention to mind, body and soul. A spirituality based on thoughts and feelings is not strong enough to ground the heart in something substantial. Thoughts and feelings come and go. They certainly cannot make you happy. Experiences in your body make you happy. An embodied spirituality gives you fertile soil in which to grow. An embodied spirituality means taking seriously rituals. During this crisis, structure yourself, ritualize yourself. Do those things that give you joy and plan your day around them. Carve out time to do contemplation, Lectio Divina, and Bible study. Establish your spiritual infrastructure and stick to it, especially now that we are so prone to emotional flights of negativity.

Religion comes from the Latin word religare. It means to “bind,” “fasten.” To bind and fasten something is to apply a structure to it so that it becomes lasting in the creation of virtue. If you say you are “spiritual,” then I should see how you have structured your life in tangible ways that bespeak that you value spirituality. Spirituality cannot merely be a passing thought or fancy. We humans put a structure to what is important.

Simple Abundance

The sixth and final element of a COVID-19 spirituality is a return to simple abundance. Simple abundance is a commitment to consume less, to be mindful of how our economic actions impact the environment and the rest of the world. As a way to express simple abundance, some are growing gardens. What other lifestyle changes can we make to extend compassion to the rest of the world? As you engage God in this liminal period, other ideas will come to you. This liminal period demands that you be open to the new thing God will do through this crisis.

In conclusion…

The apostles of Jesus found themselves in a liminal period between the Ascension of our Lord and the arrival of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, when God would do something radically new. As Jesus departed from them, the apostles fixed their gaze on the heavens to which he ascended.  We humans are so prone to fixating on realities we consider safe havens amid the onslaughts of life. The angel reminded them that they would see Jesus again. Instead of fixating on the glories of the resurrection and the ascension, they had to wait in a liminal period until the coming of the Holy Spirit. What did the apostles do in that liminal period between the Ascension and Pentecost to be fruitful, to keep from gazing, fixating on one reality?

They prayed….

That is what we are invited to do in this present liminal reality precipitated by the Corona virus. Prayer opens us up to spiritually see what God in Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit is doing.

Let us develop a disciplined spirituality so that we can see. Let us develop a COVID-19 spirituality.


The Mindful Christ

The film Gravity is a spiritual tour de force.  Sandra Bullock plays the part of “Dr. Ryan Stone,” a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission to space.  The commander of her shuttle crew is “Matt Kowalski,” played by George Clooney.  While on a space walk, debris from an exploding, Russian satellite destroys the shuttle.  Dr. Stone and Commander Kowalski are the sole survivors of their shuttle crew.  They are completely alone in space.  They are tethered to nothing but each other, spiraling in the darkness of space.

I believe that Commander Kowalski is a Christ figure in the film.  He is curious, calm, centered and collected under pressure.  The veteran astronaut appreciates the beauty of the cosmos as though he were seeing it for the first time. In the end, like Christ, he accepts his death with equanimity, trusting that he would die into something bigger than himself.

"I believe that Commander Kowalski is a Christ figure in the film.  He is curious, calm, centered, and collected under pressure." Photo courtesy of

“I believe that Commander Kowalski is a Christ figure in the film. He is curious, calm, centered, and collected under pressure.”
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Dr. Stone, all alone, tries to get to the International Space Center and from there to the Chinese Space Center.  Facing one crisis after another, in a most poignant scene in the film, in a fetal position Dr. Stone cries, “No one taught me to pray!  I wish someone had taught me how to pray.”

“No one taught me to pray!  I wish someone had taught me how to pray.”  Photo courtesy of

“No one taught me to pray! I wish someone had taught me how to pray.”
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Amid all the technological wizardry, Dr. Stone’s spontaneous burst of human emotion reveals that the human heart has needs that the head will never understand.  Her cry is an indictment against a whole generation of parents who have taken a laissez-faire approach to their children’s spiritual development, not intentionally inculcating in their children spiritual traditions.  Many Christian parents have not even taught their children the Lord’s Prayer.

Dr. Stone’s cry indicts the church in the West, which has not taught people how to pray in a way that is enriching, in a way that would give them a sense of gravitas in the world, especially as they face life’s endemic pain.  Churches have been more concerned with institutional matters that keep them solvent and growing numerically.  They have been more obsessed with what to believe than how to live.  Christianity has long been a theologically-laden religion.  It is for this reason that it comes off as arcane and inaccessible in our postmodern world.

The preponderance of theology and right thinking has gotten in the way of living mindfully in the present with a sense of joy and satisfaction that every moment brings.  Christianity too often looks back at the fall of Adam and Eve and ahead to the end of the world, when everything will have been made right.  Too often we have forgotten about the dash between the beginning and the end.  That dash between the beginning and the end matters because God became a man in Christ Jesus.  That dash is validated by the incarnation of the Son of God.  How we live matters.  Jesus is not only Cristus victor over sin, death and the devil.  He is also Cristus victor over life.  He shows us how to live.

Can we emulate how Jesus lived?

I have recently come across a counseling method that has enriched my pastoral counseling and affirmed my long-held thought that everyone’s psyche yearns for healing and wholeness.  Internal Family Systems (IFS), developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz, combines the therapeutic model of family systems theory with the view that the mind, rather than being a single entity, is instead made up of various parts with their own viewpoints and ways of expressing themselves.  IFS therapy tries to understand how the various parts are organized to protect the psychic system from pain.

In the IFS model, there are three main parts that most people have.  First, there are the exiles.  These parts are informed by lingering pain, shame or hurt from childhood.  Second, there are the managers.  Managers are protective parts that keep the pain of the exiles from coming to the forefront of consciousness, so we can manage our daily lives and get through them with a semblance of order.  And, third, there are the firefighters.  Firefighters avoid the pain of the exiles through compulsive acting out.

Both manager and firefighter parts are protective in nature. Firefighters cause a variety of rash behaviors from drinking binges to inappropriate sexual behavior, or any other compulsion that tries to extinguish the pain of the exiles. In my case, when I feel pain surging in my psyche, my firefighter impels me eat a carton of ice cream. Firefighters try to keep the pain and shame of the exile parts from coming to consciousness.

Everyone’s mind is configured in such a way to avoid pain and trauma; however, there cannot be any meaningful and authentic spiritual growth without facing the pain that is endemic to being human in this chaotic world. To engage your own pain is what it means to pick up your cross and follow Christ, and in the IFS model, that is where the “Self” comes into play.

In the IFS model, Dr. Schwartz identifies the spiritual center as the “Self.”  The therapist’s job is to get people to unblend from their protective parts in order to allow the pain of the exile to come into contact with the healing compassion of the Self. Our parts with their various agendas are a source of so much mindlessness. Rather than responding mindfully to a given situation, too often we are instead reacting in one of our parts.  To the extent that we do, we are limited, not living fully from our true, authentic Self.

What does the Self look like?  It looks like a person who has been long engaged in mystical and spiritual practices.  It looks grounded and wise.  It has a definite personality, a modus operandi. The true self can be characterized by what Schwatz calls the “Spiritual C’s”: calm, curiosity, compassion, confidence, clarity, courage, creativity, connectedness, centeredness, capacity for choice and communion.  The Spiritual C’s are the product of a regular, disciplined spiritual practice that is authentic. They produce a mindful person, fully available in the moment to oneself and others.  The Spiritual C’s are what mindful people look like; it is how they live.

“Matt Kowalsky” in Gravity was the epitome of a person informed by the Spiritual C’s.  He was a most compelling figure as are all contemplative types.  Did Jesus look and live like a person informed by the Spiritual C’s?  Of course.  The Gospel of John reveals that Jesus had these qualities. Granted, you will not find a spiritual practice in the Gospel of John that would foster mindfulness, but you will certainly find the Mindful Christ with whom you are invited to come into communion and be conformed through the energy of his Spirit in the sacramental life of the church.

Jesus certainly faced threats to himself and his ministry with calm.  Unlike Moses and other prophets in the Old Testament, he did not get rattled.  He interviewed Nicodemus and calmly answered his questions.  He did the same with the woman of Samaria.  Ultimately, Jesus faced his own death with calm and equanimity.

Jesus approached the world with curiosity, which is fundamental to learning and an essential openness to the world that facilitates learning and gaining wisdom.  The precocious child Jesus was in the temple questioning the religious leaders and the experts of Torah.  He was curious about the things of his heavenly Father.

Jesus was the epitome of compassion, which is what he demonstrated to the thief on the cross who was crucified together with him.  While on the cross, he shows compassion to his beloved mother when he commended her to John’s care.  He especially showed compassion as a better Moses in John chapter 8 when he refused to condemn the woman caught in adultery.  In the Old Testament, the law was written in stone by the finger of God demonstrating its unyielding inflexibility.  In obvious contrast, Jesus writes his new covenant, the Gospel, in the sand of the ground.

As a mindful person, Jesus was confident.  Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus demonstrates confidence in his Father to give him what he needs in any given moment.  He was satisfied and could live confidently in every moment.

As the true light coming into the world, Jesus taught and acted with clarity.  People were amazed that he did not teach like other religious experts.  He had clarity of thought and motives.  He demonstrated clarity when he spoke about the relationship between sin, illness and misfortune.  Life’s setbacks can be occasions to experience the glory of God.

Jesus was courageous.  He never wavered from the consequences of where his commitment to his Father would take him.  Inevitably, his teaching of God as loving Spirit would ram him into conflict with the status quo.

Jesus’ teaching demonstrated his creativity.  He taught with parables; he used art to illustrate and communicate spiritual truths that would have otherwise been lost in linear, univocal language.

Jesus had connectedness to his Father and to others.  His teaching on the Trinity reveals God as an essential connectivity of the three persons to each other and to the world.  Jesus could speak profoundly of such a spiritual truth and, yet, in a down-to-earth manner enjoy the presence of people in whatever occasion brought them together.

Jesus had a center to which he was connected.  His centeredness was informed by his relationship with his Father.  He was fully grounded in his God and Father.

Being so centered, Jesus had the capacity for choice.  Having a centeredness through Self actually frees one up to choose without the flailing of the arms in high anxiety.

Finally, Jesus sought communion. He gathered around himself 12 men to mentor and with whom to have a constant communion.  He had other connections with people that afforded him profound communion, namely Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

In the Gospel of John, Christians are invited to come into communion with the Mindful Christ.  There are no standard practices leading to an increase of mindfulness and focus in life.  The assumption is that together with the Mindful Christ and his Holy Spirit, you will develop practices that would enhance mindfulness in your life, so that over time you will reflect the Spiritual C’s.  At the center of all such practices is the incarnation. God becoming human means that this world matters; your body is important.

Everything that supports your body is a gift from God.  All the extensions and connections of the body prove that you live in an interdependent world, at the center of which is God.  To be mindful means to be aware of yourself in your body, in the space and time in which you find yourself.

". . .together with the Mindful Christ and his Holy Spirit, you will develop practices that would enhance mindfulness in your life…" Photo credit:

“. . .together with the Mindful Christ and his Holy Spirit, you will develop practices that would enhance mindfulness in your life…”
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I believe that contemplation is most necessary for the development of mindfulness.  Mindfulness is one of the fruits of contemplation.  Over time, a regular practice and discipline in contemplation make you adept at ignoring thoughts and not running off on mental and emotional wild goose chases.  Granted, given the way that our brains are wired to produce thoughts, we cannot ever stop them. But, we can ignore them, making them as objective to us as the noise of the street traffic in the background as you read this.  We need to objectify our thoughts so that we do not identify with them.  This is what Paul means in 2 Corinthians 10 when he encourages us to take every thought captive. Your true self in Christ has power over all such thoughts.  A disciplined approach to contemplation empowers you to discipline your mind.  You do not let it drift and split in a multitude of directions.  Anxiety comes on the heels of such splitting and cascading to worst-case scenarios.

Through contemplation you become adept at bringing your mind back from the far country of anxiety and grounding it in the moment in which you are living, to let thoughts and feelings flow through you, not clinging to or resisting thoughts or emotions. The fruit of contemplation is a more mindful life, more focused and engaged. Contemplation can so discipline your mind that when you are ready to deal with a thought or an emotion, you do so at your choosing, on your terms; you do it thoroughly so that you can be done with it.

Too often we are “in our heads.”  Being in our heads, life rolls by unnoticed.  It is a most liberating feeling to achieve the awareness that you are not your thoughts.  The Gospel of John invites us to become one with the Mindful Christ, to be born from above through water and Spirit.  Living with the Mindful Christ opens up possibilities to live the way that he lived, to live the abundant life of the Spirit.

There is no reason to carry heavy emotional baggage through life. That abundant life looks like the Spiritual C’s of Internal Family Systems.

The final denouement of the film Gravity finds Dr. Ryan aboard a space capsule she boards at Chinese Space Station.  Her return to the earth’s atmosphere is risky.  Her life is hanging precariously in the balance.  Dr. Ryan’s re-entry plunges her into a vast lake with a shoreline nearby.  She emerges from the space capsule, swims to the shore and crawls onto the ground in elation.  Now the ground and  gravity have become holy things for her.  She beholds the mud in her hands; she kisses it.

"Her return to the earth’s atmosphere was risky."  Photo courtesy of

“Her return to the earth’s atmosphere was risky.”
Photo courtesy of

She has gained a new appreciation for the mud even though it cannot compare to the beauty she had seen in space. Unlike Commander Kowalski and before her experience, she could never have seen and beheld the beauty of space.  Eventhough she was one of the few privileged to gaze upon such beauty, she was not mindful; she was not a contemplative; she could not see it.  She was focused more on how her knowledge could exploit the cosmos.  After her figurative death and transfiguration, she would no longer ignore life and the grace that each moment brings.  The barriers removed, she could now be mindful.

Why does it take a crisis to wake us to a mindful existence?  Often, God wakes us spiritually through a great love or a great tragedy.  The Mindful Christ is both a great tragedy and a great love.  He teaches us how to die as he accepts his imminent death with equanimity.  He especially teaches us how to live, being open to what God the Father gives us in every moment as a gift at which to wonder.

Living with the Mindful Christ, we become mindful in life and death, more aware of every moment as a gift of grace and an occasion to experience peace, love and joy.

Resource:  Internal Family Systems:  The Center for Self-Leadership:

Camelot: America’s Tragedy, My Personal Pain and Grief

I internalized the tragedy of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. It happened when I was a young boy, and it became iconic for the fears I had to face in order to mature.

Camelot, the capital of King Arthur’s kingdom, was a place, where, according to the Arthurian legend, truth, goodness and beauty reigned. For Americans in the post-WWII era, their country had become a quasi Camelot—especially personified in the Kennedy family. John F. Kennedy had it all. He was a celebrated WWII hero, married to a beautiful woman, rich, charismatic with powerful family ties. He was America’s icon for prosperity and the American Way.

"He was America’s icon for prosperity and the American Way." Photo courtesy of:

“He was America’s icon for prosperity and the American Way.”
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With an assassin’s bullet, America’s Camelot-like innocence was gone. America’s psyche was damaged at its core.

It was everybody’s pain; it was mine as well. That pain took on a debilitating significance. As a young boy, it filled my psyche with images that my immaturity could not possibly filter; thus, I was burdened with them for many years. They haunted me and repeatedly triggered in me a generalized anxiety that caused me to be irrationally afraid of the dark. The dark brought forth these macabre images: Kennedy’s

Kennedy’s body slumping forward in the presidential limousine Photo courtesy of:

“Kennedy’s body slumping forward in the presidential limousine”
Photo courtesy of:

body slumping forward in the presidential limousine; Jacqueline keeping vigil before his flag-draped coffin; Oswald’s bruised face with its arrogantly indifferent eyes; and Oswald being gunned down by Jack Ruby in the Dallas police headquarters.

Manifesting in the dark, those images took on a life of their own by darting in and out of my psyche at will. As a six year-old, I was terrified. It’s understandable for a young boy to have these fears, but this condition followed me into young adulthood, where the images persisted with a life of their own, out of my control, lurking in the dark. Images of Kennedy’s assassination became iconic for a generalized fear and anxiety that I could not face.

Early in my life, I felt the calling to be a pastor. I entered seminary as a young man of 21 years of age. After two years of academics, I spent an intern year as a vicar at a congregation in St. Louis, Missouri. Typically in the Lutheran tradition, a vicar is an interning pastor who shadows a head pastor in an existing congregation. However, in my case, there was no head pastor. As a result, I was shouldered with the key responsibility of being the sole spiritual leader for my vicarage congregation. This was a responsibility beyond my experience; so, it triggered substantial anxiety.

My anxiety built and culminated in one memorable event: after a church council meeting one evening, I had to walk through the dark church to retrieve some literature. The other members of the council had already left. I was alone.

I knew I had to go into that dark church all by myself.

"I saw Oswald being gunned down." Photo courtesy of:

“I saw Oswald being gunned down.”
Photo courtesy of:

I went through the door that separated the sanctuary from the office, which put me in the chancel area of the church. It was pitch dark. As I proceeded, I kept my face down to counter my inherent fear of the darkness. And then as clear as a bell, those dreaded images manifested: I saw Kennedy slumped in the limousine; I saw his flag-draped coffin; I saw the evil eyes of Oswald; I saw Oswald being gunned down. I ran out of the church with my heart pounding in my throat. My fear and anxiety had won out.

I was stuck….

Grief is pain that is almost too intense to bear. It yanks the grieving person out of the dailyness of his or her life, forcing reflection on the past and future as seen in one moment in time. The human psyche is ill equipped to take on that degree of pain and so, a person becomes overwhelmed, overcome by sadness and hopelessness.

Elizabeth Kuebler-Ross defines the classic 5 stages of processing grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I had not worked through these stages because no one helped me as a 6-year-old boy to process the tragedy of Kennedy’s assassination and its attendant grief.

"I saw his flag-draped coffin…" Photo courtesy of:

“I saw his flag-draped coffin…”
Photo courtesy of:

The unfinished business of grieving can cause us to become stuck. Kuebler-Ross has shown us the process of how to work through grief. The first reaction to pain is shock, which renders you numb. You are then vulnerable to being invaded by thoughts and feelings that you may not have the emotional wherewithal to process at the time. That was certainly my experience as a child at being shocked by the death of JFK. The reactions of the adults around me reinforced my fears and contributed to the damaging of my psyche with its resultant disturbing images.

Jesus says in the Beatitudes in Matthew chapter 5, “Blessed are those who mourn.” In the 50s and 60s, we weren’t taught how to mourn. I was taught that big boys don’t cry. The subtext of that message is that we hide from anything that causes us grief. We pretend the pain doesn’t exist. My method of dealing with my pain was denial. I did this all the way up to my young adulthood: I pretended as if those horrifying images did not exist. I felt that if I could hope strongly enough, they would go away.

Jesus teaches the polar opposite of the practice of denying pain and grief. Jesus invites us to face our grief, to go inside, to face our feelings and mourn with the hope that healing will come. Kuebler-Ross reinforces the teaching of Jesus.

To resolve my denial and get unstuck, I used contemplation.

In the quiet of contemplation I confronted my false self. I discovered that this false self was a matrix of hurt feelings, contradictions, grief, sin, and failure, which ironically led me to yearn all the more for my true self. The logic became unassailable: if I had such an ugly self that was false, reciprocally I had a true self that was just the opposite. This is what Christ revealed to me in contemplation, reminding me that I was heir to my true self in baptism.

…back to my story

Because of that horrible anxiety attack after the church council meeting, I was impelled to pay attention to my insides and the thoughts and images I had long ignored.

"There was a room just off the right side of the altar called the vestry." Photo courtesy of:

“There was a room just off the right side of the altar called the vestry.”
Photo courtesy of:

There was a room just off the right side of the altar called the vestry. It was a little-used room, and so had become cluttered with trash and storage. Needing a place for quiet, I cleaned out that room and readied it for a newfound place of solitude. I began by studying and praying there, then I began to learn about contemplation—all done in the daylight hours as dictated by the tyranny of my anxiety attack.

Slowly and steadily, through contemplation, I began to feel the change that was occurring in me. What proved to me that I was changing was a sermon I preached on a confirmation Sunday. After the service, just about everyone told me that I was manifesting a new confidence.

But, the ultimate sign of my transformation was that I could now walk through the church at night without seeing those dreaded images.

"Contemplation gave me permission and a safe haven to face my fears…" Photo courtesy of:

“Contemplation gave me permission and a safe haven to face my fears…”
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Contemplation gave me permission and a safe haven to face my fears, to confront them and gain mastery and power over them. By permitting those images to appear in the safety of Christ, the quiet and the relaxation that the spiritual practice afforded my body, I gained courage to look those images in the eye, no longer denying their existence.

Contemplation healed me in a steady, imperceptible way. Like growth in a garden, contemplation yields imperceptible results on a daily basis; yet over time, it produces real change.

Contemplation teaches me that the joy of being human is molding one’s life, growing, and getting continually unstuck through resolving psychic blockages to the abundant life in Christ—that life is my true self.

Like most Americans, I’ve been watching news programs commemorating the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination. I listened to the testimonies of those who were at the scene on that fateful day in Dallas. These eyewitnesses continue to tell their stories with tears still present after all this time. I was struck by the fact that this tragedy is still real to them, and by extension, it is still real to our nation. It makes me wonder if the nation as a whole ever went through the healthy grieving process for the loss of our young president. It seems we didn’t get the time because we jumped right into the urgent tragedy of the escalating war in Vietnam. Psychologists have noted that abusers are people who have been abused and have not effectively dealt with their trauma. Their trauma continues to fuel their rage and anger in further violence toward others.

Instead of turning from violence, America became even more violent: the assassination of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy.

Jesus was right, “Blessed are those who mourn,” who work through their grief. They are the ones who become the peacemakers. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”

"Instead of turning from violence, America became even more violent: the assassination of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy." Photo courtesy of:

““Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”
Photo courtesy of: