A Holy Quarantine

By Nancy Jo Sullivan

Three weeks ago, our lives were unrestricted. Grocery stores were stocked with supplies of food and toilet paper. Hair appointments could be easily scheduled, and we exercised freely at gyms. We gathered at restaurants with friends and shared French fries. At Gethsemane church, we worshipped side by side.

But the Covoid 19 virus has altered our lives dramatically. Day after day, the medical experts keep reminding us to “stay home.” These directives force us to refrain from hugs and handshakes. For most of us, it’s been hard.

Like so many, I’m now working from home. Much to my surprise, I’m finding some grace in the mandates of seclusion. I have more time for long walks and reading novels. I’ve finally learned how to make healthy muffins. Each afternoon, I pour a cup of tea and chat with my neighbor from my deck. At night, I talk with my grown children online.

I’ve been working on my prayer life, too. In the morning, just before the sun comes up, I make my way to the couch and place a lighted candle on the coffee table. With nothing to distract me, I close my eyes and offer God my thoughts. My words are few. “I’m nervous about the virus…Please heal our world,” I tell the Lord. As the morning light filters into my living room, I hear God say, “I am with you. Trust in me.”

Sometimes I ask, “Lord, how am I called to serve you during this time? Where are you leading me?”

The answers come slowly. Quietly.

In the stillness, I find myself thinking about the blessings I often overlook. Soon, my private thoughts become offerings of praise:

Thank you, God, for the laptop that keeps me close to my family. Thank you for the eggs in my fridge and for fresh air. Thank you for the doctors and nurses who are caring for the sick and for the leaders who are guiding us through this crisis. Thank you that you are with us…

Do I miss “life as it was” a few weeks ago? Of course. I miss seeing the faces of the children and families I serve at Gethsemane. I miss chatting with the volunteers who make our church so special: the ushers and greeters, the quilters, the receptionists who answer our phones, and so many others. Most of all, I miss breaking bread with you on Sunday mornings.

But during this time of quarantine, maybe God is inviting us to draw closer to him. This is something I’ve wanted for a long time but never seemed to have time for. Maybe you feel the same.

The scriptures remind us, again and again, that quarantines can be holy. Many saints of old met God in seclusion. In an upper room, the apostles received the fire of the Holy Spirit. In a dark prison, Saint Peter saw the light of an angel. In the wilderness, Moses stood before the flame of God.

These stories remind us that seclusion can bring spiritual enlightenment and untold growth.

Just yesterday, I was reading this encouraging passage from the book of Matthew:

But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.

And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. Matthew 6: 1-6

This passage seems altogether fitting for the crisis we are going through. We have temporarily “closed the door” on the lives we knew three weeks ago. And none of us knows how long the “stay home” directive will last. But maybe this time of separation affords opportunities to master new ways of praying.

What does it mean to “pray in secret?”

Is there an empty room or corner in your home that might be converted into a prayer space? Maybe your kitchen table or a living room chair could become a hallowed space to commune with God. Perhaps you might pray in secret when you go for a daily walk or just before you fall sleep at night. As you watch the news reports on television or read about the virus updates in the newspaper, you might pray for those who are sick and suffering. In the middle of the night, when the voice of worry shouts, you can choose instead to listen to the whisper of God. It doesn’t matter where you are or what you are doing. When you enter the inner room of your heart, God is always there, waiting to talk and wanting to provide.

There’s a little ritual that helps me to pray in secret - lighting a candle. There’s something about a gentle flame that calms my spirit and invites me into the presence of God.

In the Jewish tradition, the Sabbath begins with the matriarch of the home lighting two candles 18 minutes before sunset. The candlelight signals the beginning of a mandated time of rest, reflection and prayer. Do you have a candle? Consider lighting it each time you pray, as our Jewish brothers and sisters have modeled. I’m imagining our collective candles glowing in our houses and apartments. In the glow, let’s pray in secret for one another.

May the days ahead draw you closer to God. May this time of quarantine be holy. And may the Light of the World give you peace.