CORONA-VIRUS 19 AND DOING ALRIGHT: The Search for Meaning
It was during the week preceding the Holy Week that Akwa Ibom State Government gave the 1st lockdown order, as a necessary condition for containing the global deadly pandemic. The protocols of the lockdown order were to be religiously observed – hand washing, sanitizing with safe sanitizers, wearing face masks and social distancing to control crowd and movement. For us at St. Paul’s Parish at the time of giving the order, the confusion was palpable as the order created anxiety and fear more than anything else. Burning questions were yet to be addressed: “What in the name of humanity is Corona Virus 19? How, where and when were the protocols most necessary?” The confusion heightened the fears and anxieties of our parishioners when on Sunday, 29th March 2020, I issued a lockdown order on pastoral activities in the parish, in line with the government orders and the pastoral counsels of the Bishop of Uyo Catholic Diocese. The confusion took another turn when on 2nd April, 2020, the government raised the status of the lockdown to total lockdown, a few days away from Passion Sunday and the beginning of the holiest week of Christianity. Dazed in mind and body and lost in thought I began self distancing in self questioning: “What is going on here? Can an unknown subject enforce an unprecedented lockdown of the ultimate liturgical celebration of the mystery of God in the history of salvation? What in truth is the real status of the invisible entity that was about to tear down thousands of years of Christian tradition? How would we manage the spiritual crisis that would cause incalculable trauma to the faith of so many devout Christian people?” These questions prepared me to cautiously enter into the Holy week to seek answers to help me and my parishioners uphold our creedal faith, liturgical worship and faithful witness.
Here is the recollection of the events of the 2020 Holy Week in St. Paul’s Parish. With 5 running water points with soap for washing, several bottles of sanitizers, and stands to sell face masks for those without any, we were ready to practice the new liturgical normal of the Covid 19 era. On Palm Sunday, to keep to the rules of social distancing 3 centres were created for 3 Holy Masses. The traditional Palm Sunday procession was given up but palms were blessed within the 3 Holy Mass centres. Seven Holy Masses were celebrated by 3 priests between 6:30am and 12:30pm to keep to the 1pm time limit given by the government. Within one hour the priests did their best to hold together the basic parts of the Holy Mass and we believe the Lord used those brief moments to sanctify the people of God. But many including me felt we were robbed of the rich liturgical practices of the faith. Covid 19 seemed to have won the day with the veto power to keep everything brief. The big shock came on Tuesday with the cancellation of the scheduled Chrism Mass in anticipation of the Triduum. again Covid 19 seemed to have won. On Holy Thursday we said Holy Mass of the Last Supper with 16 faithful in attendance together with 3 priests and 2 altar servers. It was unprecedented in the Triduum tradition to restrict the number of the faithful for physical participation at the liturgical festival of Brotherly/sisterly Charity; but we did in the circumstances! Again Covid 19 seemed to have won with the introduction of virtual reality of “streaming and Zooming.” On Good Friday, our traditional fasting liturgy in the morning was axed together with the public celebration of the Stations of the Cross. The Good Friday liturgy had 60 people in attendance and everything went with speed to send the people home on time to beat the curfew time at 8pm. On Holy Saturday even with the best liturgical practice to make sure that all the parts of the day’s event were observed, the ceremony was to many a stage managed affair to obey the necessary rules of Covid 19. On Easter Sunday, again 7 Holy Masses were said within the time limit set by the government. The people made an Easter statement by coming in their numbers to affirm with Mary Magdalene the mystery of the Empty Tomb: The Lord is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! The prominence of Mary Magdalene in the story of the Empty Tomb was used to challenge the faithful to go like Mary and bring others to faith in the Risen Lord. Our Parish Chairman and his Council Executives won the priest’s and the people’s gratitude by giving them a little something to eat and drink. That is my recollection of the events of the Holy Week in our Parish.
While I worried about the psycho-spiritual well being of the people of God I realized that I too, as the Parish Priest, needed help to get me out of my near crisis of faith, as I felt I lost it all to Covid 19 that took away the source of my spiritual strength through the awful manner of the celebration of the greatest mysteries of my Christian faith. In the 43 years of my priesthood I have never experienced so much emptiness as a result of celebrating a near empty Easter Liturgy in 2020. But God did not allow Covid 19 to have the last laugh. At the limits of my emotional, psychological, and spiritual tedium, in self distancing, my imagination shone its vibrant light. Paradoxically, while introspecting, it became clear to me that on the other side of Covid 19 there were other ways of perceiving and living and being human at this time of restlessness. In imagination, I looked inwards, dreamt new possibilities and named them by creating a narrative to make sense of the darkness and the ambiguities of the pandemic. The chapters of “Corona Virus 19 and Doing Alright” tell the dramatic stories of the search for meaning and new ways of making sense out of the non-sense of the seeming evil of the pandemic of our time.
Part One tells the human experience of human action from a distance that re-awakened and re-connected our common humanity; the human action of selfless giving caused to flourish the best of our common humanity in the worst of times and branded meaning in the season of pain. The human action inaugurated a pastoral initiative called, “The Neediest from a Distance Project.” Credit should be given to Emperor Covid 19 for it has enriched humanity with a new terminology of “Social distancing” as a metaphor for human dignity, relationship, togetherness, solidarity, interconnectedness, collaboration, participation, subsidiarity and selflessness. It has given content to the ancient wisdom: I AM BECAUSE WE ARE! Recovering our sense of oneness in the wholeness of our common humanity is one small step forward to containing the global pandemic. Practicing social distancing is staying safe and keeping healthy. It is doing alright in the era of Corona Virus 19.
Part Two critiques the sense of oneness of humanity in the wider context of wholeness of creation. How do we practice social distancing that brings humanity and the rest of creation together? How do we practice social distancing in the midst of hunger? The way forward is being proactive rather than reactive. Pro-activity calls for a reawakening and reconnecting with the Earth. The Earth is brother and sister and mother and even father to humanity. It feeds us to keep safe and healthy at this time of global sickness to death. The Earth takes care of Humanity; Humanity in justice must do same to the Earth. Then will there be a healthier sense of oneness and wholeness. Then will humanity and Creation do alright in the restlessness of Corona Virus 19.
The subsections of Part Two deepen the anthropological foundation of Oneness and wholeness in the practice of “UBUNTU.” They simply recall the wisdom that says, “WE ARE HAPPIER WHEN WE ARE HAPPY TOGETHER!” Also they recall the fundamental concept of social distancing through the practice of self distancing, togetherness, solidarity and subsidiarity. UBUNTU is doing alright together in the restlessness of Corona Virus 19.
Part Thee raises the questions of the roles of reason and faith in the disruptive season of Corona Virus 19. It creates the context for questions of reason and faith by recalling the events of the seeming unholy week of the Holy Week of 2020. It asserts that Corona Virus 19 may be a holy time to ask hard questions and seek reasonable answers regarding the new world order unfolding before us. A sense of oneness and wholeness of humanity with creation finds ultimate meaning in the oneness and wholeness of God.
The subsections of Part Three point the way to seek enlightenment through science. The scientific breakthroughs of Special/General Relativity and Quantum Physics shine light to the umbra of faith at this time of Corona Virus 19. In the complexities of life relativity and quantum science acknowledge ENERGY and MATTER as the only real things in existence. They are two forms of the same thing. The invisible world of energy stays in a relationship, togetherness, interconnectedness and complementarity with the physical concrete world of matter. This means that physical concrete things of perception are through and through energy. Therefore energy as the stuff of life should shed light on the meaning and meaningfulness of life. But the exact nature of what holds these two forms of the same thing together is shrouded in mystery. Both science and religion acknowledge mystery in existence. But while science puts emphasis on energy and matter and their various paradoxical manifestations religion puts emphasis on mystery as the ground of grounds that gives meaning to the relationships, togetherness, interconnectedness and complementarities. Religion calls energy divine spirit. In Christian Science that Divine Spirit is God, the Alpha and the Omega of all existence. Relativity lights the way towards understanding the oneness of humanity and creation in the ultimate oneness and wholeness of God. They further study relativity as a unifying phenomenon that holds humans and cosmic processes together in relationships of “sameness –in- difference.” Relativity reveals that at the bottom of it all life is a longing for oneness in the bigger picture of a relational and complementary existence. It explores the phenomenon of relativity with focus on the Christian Pentecost using the Scriptures, especially, the New Testament, as the basic text.
Part Four in the spirit of self distancing recalls the troubling issues of faith practice during the unholy week of the Holy Week 2020 and attempts to give them reasonable answers with the enlightenment gained from the “Quantum Spirituality/Relativity.”
Part Five basically briefly retells the story of creation and emphasizes human responsibility, in caring for the earth, in anticipation of the Post Corona Virus 19 era. What was the meaning of creation in the past and what will be the meaning of creation in the future through our actions and inactions at this time of unease?
Part Six presents the General Conclusion explains the Sub-Title of the book – The Search for meaning! It ends with recommendations for further conversations to rehabilitate meaning in the post Corona Virus 19 era.
The Doxology is the Canticle of St. Francis of Assisi. It presents the poetic synthesis of the “Oneness and wholeness” of humanity and creation in the most high, all powerful, good God! Indeed a poesies of creativity for humble human action! To St. Francis for calling humanity to care for creation as service to God, even now, our gratitude is limitless.
Finally, the prayer of the Prophet-Priest-Scientist, Teilhard de Chardin celebrates the joyful thanksgiving of the author for the gift of self distancing at this uncertain time of surprises. It celebrates the ambiguitous fickleness of faith restored for a humble unassuming service still! In the perplexing crucible of anguish of an invisible disease faith reawakens beholden to a renewed sense of service in the paradox of priesthood in a new uncharted world order with promises to keep and mountains yet to climb. At this time the prayer is: “It is to you Oh Lord that my being cried as my old world melted away at the Triduum/Easter and from whence a new world emerges. To you I cry out now with a desire as vast as the farthest heavens and earth to serve in a world becoming in the awesome mystery of togetherness of God and His creatures. In this dedication, Lord Jesus Christ, I pledge to live, in this I pledge to die to live in you! Amen!”
CORONA VIRUS 19 and DOING ALRIGHT
- The Paradox
- A time to Re-awaken and Reconnect our common Humanity
- A Week of Reckoning: Angels to the Rescue
- The Best in the Worst time
- Meaning in the Season of Pain
RECLAIMING THE SENSE OF WHOLENESS
- The Paradox
- Holy Week A Pushover As A Passover – Wholeness Denied
- Wholeness Re-awakened through Re-connection with the Earth
- A Time for Total Wholeness
- Fire of Wholeness through Renewed “Ubuntu”.
- Ubuntu as Solidarity
- Ubuntu as Intra and Inter – Social Communication
- Ubuntu as Subsidiarity
REASON AND FAITH
- The Perplexity of a Clown
- A time to Seek Light
- A Time of Enlightenment: The Pentecost Event and Quantum Spirituality
- The Mysterious Event of the Christian Pentecost
- Pentecost the era of the Animating work of the Holy Spirit
- Pentecost the Mystery of Beginnings
- Koinonia: The Poetics of “Relativity in Christian communal Living”
- Ananias and Sapphira: Entropic dis-harmony in the logic of Spiritual Relativity. Acts 5: 3-4
- The Role of St. Paul in the Spiritual Relativity: God Loves a Cheerful Giver
RESPONSE TO THE ISSUES OF “THE PERPLEXITY OF A CLOWN”
- The Christian Easter Paschal Mystery and the Quantum Question
- Celebrating the Eucharist in an Empty Church
- Social Distancing: A Call for Solidarity At a Distance
- Celebrating the Priesthood in oneness with the People of God: Sacramental Responsibility
RETELLING THE STORY OF CREATION IN THE ERA OF THE UNEASE OF COVID-19
- PRACTICE OF Fraternal Charity: Beyond Sacramental Responsibility
- Care for the Ecosystem
- The Gifted Time of Covid-19
GENERAL CONCLUSION: The Search for Meaning
THE CANTICLE OF ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI
Prayer for the Planet
MSGR Michael Ekpenyong
Michael Otto Ekpenyong is a Catholic Priest who holds a Masters Degree in Philosophy and Doctorate Degree in Systematic Theology from Duquesne University Pittsburg, U.S.A. At the Catholic Secretariate of Nigeria, he served at the Secretary General for a couple of years. In September 2012, he was appointed Papal Chamberline (Chaplain to the Holy Father) by his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. He is the author of Story telling Imagination and God-Talk (2002) and Beware of gods (2005), The John and the Paul in John Paul II (2010) and much more which can be accessed here.
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