Isolation Tips from the Monastery

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‘Self-isolation’ and ‘social-distancing’ may be new terms for most of us in 2020 but some Christians have been setting themselves apart for centuries. Concerning prayer, Jesus says to all of us: when you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen (Matt. 6:6). Monastic life takes this prescription full-time and can help us not only to live this time in a healthy way but to improve our lives when things go back to normal.

Domestic Horarium

One of the hallmarks of monastic life is the structure. The monastic timetable, called a horarium, not only has fixed times for communal prayer but also for waking, sleeping, eating, study, work, personal prayer, rest, and recreation. It is not possible to say you became so caught up in your study that you forgot to eat or to recreate at the expense of your work. When the bell rings it is time to move to the next item on the horarium. Our days in the world have a structure of their own. This rhythm gives us a sense of belonging, comfort, and purpose. Many of us may find ourselves adrift in the absence of this routine. Creating a domestic horarium can help us stay grounded:

  • Keep consistent times for waking and sleeping
  • Change into daytime clothes rather than spending the whole day in pajamas
  • Limit meals to set times
  • Schedule prayer time, especially at the traditional hours of morning and evening
  • If you live with others, plan time to be alone
  • If you live alone, schedule time to connect with others via phone or electronically

Solitude and Silence

Although there is a sense of urgency as people and institutions adapt to these volatile circumstances, there is also a prevailing stillness in the streets and a release from certain activities and obligations. Given the way our world is currently hyper-connected and with the increase of noise and light pollution, the sudden silence and solitude can be alienating and induce fear for those unaccustomed. Monasteries are known for silence and solitude. Most monastic timetables include a period of “profound silence” during which individuals retire alone to their cells for rest, reading, or handicrafts. In the spiritual life it is in solitude and the silence that our deepest sentiments come to the surface. Rather than drowning them out with distraction, this could be your opportunity to be attentive to your feelings and bring them to God in prayer.

  • If you usually live or work with background noise, try to turning it off and focusing all your attention on your tasks
  • Schedule you or your family’s consumption of entertainment
  • If solitude has you feeling lonely, take time to actively place yourself in the presence of the Lord and be attentive to how it feels to connect with Him
  • If you live with others, schedule time to be alone together with members of the household working quietly on individual activities (or napping!) at the same time
  • Join in the public prayer of the Body of Christ even when alone by praying the Liturgy of the Hours

Faith not Fear

Most monastics make a vow of poverty. In the world poverty usually means deprivation, which can even be dangerous or life threatening. Monastic poverty is more about trust in God and a commitment to focus on what is essential. As people of faith we are encouraged to view our lives from a stance of abundance. This is the perfect time to practice the four principle of Christian stewardship:

  1. Receive God’s gifts with gratitude
  2. Cultivate them responsibly
  3. Share them with love and justice
  4. Return them with increase to the Lord

Some suggested actions in this time of pandemic are:

  • Offer your fear to the Lord and earnestly pray for the gift of faith
  • Take only what you need
  • Consider how you may be able to make, substitute, or forego what is not available or limited
  • If you have what another needs, give freely
  • If you are in need, accept help; your humility gives others the opportunity to give

Intentionality

In religious life God brings together individuals with different temperaments to live according to some kind of shared rule, constitution, or charism. To live in peace and love with others requires intentionality. Although social-distancing is keeping some of us apart, in many households people are spending a lot more time together than normal. On a civic, national, and global scale, it has become necessary to put aside singular interests for the common good. In times of busyness and stress, the base instinct may be self-preservation. We’ve seen the hoarding of goods and profiteering that come from this mentality. It is important to look after oneself, not as an end in itself, but for the purpose of serving God and one another. Take that extra step and intentionally think about others as you also care for yourself:

  • Be quick to apologise and quick to forgive
  • Pray for others
  • Reach out electronically or by phone to those who are most isolated
  • Identify vulnerable people and run errands for them
  • Take all health precautions for yourself and to avoid the spread of illness to others