Reframing the Coronavirus Outbreak: The Spiritual Practice of Social Distancing and Quarantine

A ViewPoint by Rev. Dr. Christy Gunter Sim Hailey

Social Distancing as a Woman Ascending Stairs with a Lamp

Oh, the Stress

Like many of you, when my program announced I was not allowed back at my work site for at least three weeks, I about lost my mind. I said, “What about my clients? They already have so much loss and grief, and now I’m abandoning them!” I had a panic moment.

In addition, I have personally experienced isolation during a high-risk pregnancy, when I was on bedrest for five months. Not the greatest memories in my life, and anything that reminds me of that kind of social isolation is not exactly on my list of fun times.

Next, I actually began to live the experience of social isolation alongside children who needed protein-based meals constantly (while the stores are empty) and wanted to run and play (while it’s raining and we can’t go outside). Oh, and I am supposed to do their at-home education on our one laptop while I’m working on that laptop from home. It is a little stressful.

But then, after my panicky, minor freak-out, and the recognition of what this current virus reminded me of, I started to get a grip on my new reality and understand the significance of social distancing. I realized this is especially important for the vulnerable people I care so much about and work with every day. I am not abandoning them; I am helping them.


Spiritual Themes

Before I knew it, some spiritual themes started emerging.

I started feeling a tad inspired, finally having some time to read and write. I thought about how I could write all those articles I have not had time to compose, or read one of the books on my stack. Maybe this is something that is less a thing to dread and more something to be excited about, instead.

Then, I read about some people who had been quarantined and had come up with amazing things that changed our world.

If Newton and Shakespeare could do that, what kind of amazing things are we going to do during our time of social distancing and quarantine? Maybe one of us will come up with something truly amazing.

Here are some of the spiritual practice themes that began to emerge for me. Maybe they can help you get started.

  1. Reframe

Instead of being upset about this time of pulling away from others, maybe we can think about what we can do that is positive. Perhaps we can reframe the way we think of this time of social distancing and quarantine to be more of a spiritual practice rather than an inconvenience. This whole experience of social distancing reminds me of the practice of Lent. In the same way we give something up and truly gain, we give up now, and perhaps (with the right focus) we can learn and grow.

2. Reset

This time is unprecedented in our lifetime. It is a beginning and an ending, the beginning of a shift and the end of an old way of living in the way we once knew. We can use this time to unlearn, let go, and reset our thoughts, behaviors, and patterns.

  1. Refocus

This is a time to make room for a new focus. Peel away the layers of old thinking and believing during this time to see where you are going.

  1. Reprioritize

What is it you really want? What is it you really need? Look within and clarify who you really want to be, so you are ready to act.

  1. Reconnect

Be present in relationships. You have time to stop and be with your family. Who do you suddenly have time to call or Facetime? Who needs a heartfelt email from you?

  1. Realize

You can start a brand new habit in this time. What will yours be? Have you wished for time to do yoga or to exercise? Has your New Year’s resolution been put to the side for lack of time? Surprise! Guess what. You have plenty of time now.

  1. Recognize

Recognize that not everyone gets the luxury of social isolation. Medical staff still show up. Drive-through windows are still packed. There are so many people who are working through this time while some of us are social distancing. Let us recognize who is social distancing and who is helping us through this time.

  1. Remember

Many of those who do not work right now do not get paid. This is a huge deal for families concerned about being able to provide basic needs. What can we do to help?

This is a new way of living that we are all trying to cope with and understand. This is like nothing we have ever done before. As we reframe our time of social isolation and quarantine, maybe we can create something new, like Newton or Shakespeare. Or maybe we will have time to process or lend a hand to those who need us right now. Whatever we do, let’s remember those who are still working and those who are suffering more because of this time.

 

Rev. Dr. Christy Gunter Sim Hailey
Christy graduated from St. Paul’s School of Theology in Kansas with a doctorate in Global Health and Wholeness. Her main area of research was in healing after domestic violence, and her dissertation was titled Body, Theology, and Intimate Partner Violence: Healing Fragmentation through Spiritual Play. She also holds an M.Div. from Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City and is listed in the Scientific Reviewer and Adviser database for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as an expert in Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Teen Dating Violence. In June, 2018, she helped organize the "For Such a Time as This Rally," speaking outside the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, encouraging pastors and ministry leaders to respond to domestic violence and sexual assault in trauma-informed and survivor-centered ways. Her new book Survivor Care: What Religious Professionals Need to Know about Healing Traumacame out in spring 2019 (Wesley Foundry Books).

2 COMMENTS

  1. What a helpful reflection! Thanks for these 8 ways to use our newfound time–to refocus, reconnect, reprioritize, etc. I’m grateful to be retired and not to be doing in-home education of kids. I studied medieval anchorites when I was in grad school, and I’ve always respected their choices. Now I get to experience “place steadfastness” (as the author of a guide for anchoresses called it), to some degree.

    Thanks for the links too, though I suspect neither Shakespeare nor Newton was doing much child care during their isolation.

  2. Thank you, Christy. I appreciate your spiritual reframing of this isolation. I read a FB post that said something like, somedays I do everything right, exercise, eat right, read, write, clean, etc. Other days I just want vodka for breakfast. I will print out your eight points and read them on the vodka mornings.

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