by Rose Feerick
On Ash Wednesday, I was in Atlanta for Wisdom & Money’s board retreat. After a day of meetings, Steven, Nancy and I headed to St. Michael’s Church for mass. During the sermon, the priest repeated his primary theme: “From this day forward, everything will be different.” He was inviting us to step into the season of Lent with commitment and a willingness to be changed on a level far beyond addiction to chocolate.
After the sermon, we were invited to come forward for the distribution of ashes. Midway through the distribution, the lights flickered and then went out. There was a moment of collective freezing as everything went dark. I looked to the front of the church, wondering what was going to happen, wondering how the priest would respond.Behind me, someone held up a phone with the flashlight on. Across the aisle, someone else followed suit. Inspired, I found my phone and directed its light down the aisle so the people going up for ashes could see. All around the church people lifted up phones. Members of the choir lit candles. The distribution of ashes resumed in the dim glow of candle and phone. Afterwards, the priest simplified the service, offering consecrated Eucharist from the tabernacle, blessing us and sending us home.
It’s three weeks later now. During that time, our world has moved from a vague awareness of the Covid-19 virus to pandemic. The priest was right. Everything is different.
Back home in California I have my supplies in place. My kids are home from school and all the in person gatherings I had on my calendar are cancelled. Earlier this week, local government officials announced that everyone in the Bay Area is to stay home for the next three weeks, at least.
My mind struggles to take in this new reality. I feel the pull of collective fear and disorientation. It lives in my body as tension across my shoulders and a tightness in my chest. Daily, I struggle to figure out what is mine to do in the midst of these times. But there is no handbook for what to do in the midst of global shut down.
Instead, I turn to the memory of that Ash Wednesday service. When the lights went out, I looked to the priest for guidance, hoping he would tell us what to do. But it was the people in the pews who responded first: the person behind me holding up a light; the person across the aisle, holding up theirs; me, coming to my senses, remembering that I have a light, too.
That kind of remembering is my practice now. The past few days I have been thinking about what I know about the monastic way of life, for instance, its spiritual practices that can shift our inner state and the way monks move through their days with a particular rhythm that balances work and prayer. I am thinking also of what I know about how to bring people together in spiritual community where we can hold each other’s lives and hearts in love. I am thinking of what we know together about working with money in ways that open to the Holy Spirit.
It is time to hold up the light.