Pandemic and Spirituality
The coronavirus forces us to assume a new spirituality and attitude towards reality. Spirituality is the capacity to open oneself lovingly to the other, to nature and to God.
By Frei Betto
April 11, 2020
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
Life is full of contingencies. On a personal level, failure, loss of friends, illness, death. On the global level, events that no analyst or futurologist foresees, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Twin Towers in New York. Nor did anyone suspect that in the midst of the 21st century, with all the resources of science, humanity would be threatened by a pandemic.
Who could have imagined that it would come from China, in the form of a contagious disease, the cause of the deepest crisis of capitalism since 2008? According to the Morgan Stanley Composite Index, in a few weeks in the financial market, the shares of the world’s stock exchanges lost $15.5 trillion dollars, more than eight times the GDP of Brazil in 2019!
Will any of those speculators and mega-researchers be affected in their pockets (the most sensitive part of the human body) have become poorer? And yet, before the pandemic, almost all of them refused to make their own contribution to measures to combat hunger and global warming.
That reminds me of the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans in the year 70. There came a time when the rich man offered a pot full of gold in exchange for a piece of bread.
The coronavirus forces us to assume a new spirituality and attitude towards reality. It does not make class distinctions, as does gastroenteritis, which kills thousands of malnourished children. Likewise, it makes no distinctions of sexual orientation, as does AIDS, which affected mostly homosexuals. Now we are all vulnerable, even if the age groups and situations of risk vary.
We are all forced to withdraw into the house and into ourselves, to become detached. This abandonment of routine activities and programmed agendas can uproot or humanize us. Those who are attached to certain habits that, for the moment, are forbidden, such as going to the movies, to the theater, to the club, will rebel. In the case of the elderly, they will not be able to have contact with their grandchildren and will have to stay at home as long as possible.
Air travel has been reduced, national borders have been closed, tourist tours have been canceled. We have no choice but to stay put where we are. Huit-clos [no exit], within four walls. We may discover, like Sartre, why others are hell. And it may be that we rescue family life, dialogue with the family, the care of the house (everything must be sanitized).
It is time to learn to work and study without leaving domestic space. Now we have more time to watch movies on TV, surf the internet, read good books, do research, meditate and pray.
The virus makes everyone equal. But it doesn’t level the playing field. The bourgeois couple, who never took the trouble to go into the kitchen or clean the house, are now forced to roll up their sleeves or risk having one of their employees bring the virus into their home. The recalcitrant does not follow the instructions of the health authorities, and the selfish buy all the alcohol gel and masks in the pharmacy.
I know a young woman who volunteered to do the shopping for the vulnerable neighbors in her building without charging anything for it. Another distributed her phone number so that isolated elderly people would have someone to talk to. A married couple of lawyers go in their car every morning to pick up their cook on the outskirts and take her back in the afternoon, to prevent her from using public transportation. Three neighboring families from a hospital decided to prepare lunches for the nurses and doctors who double their work hours. In Italy, neighbors look out the window in the late afternoon and sing in chorus. Churches, mosques, synagogues open their doors to those who live on the streets and need hygienic care. Finally, there are countless examples of generosity and solidarity in this period when we are all potentially threatened.
These gestures have their source in spirituality, even if it is not of a religious nature. Spirituality is the capacity to open oneself lovingly to others, to nature and to God. And its best teaching is in generosity, the secret of happiness. Rich is not he who has everything, said Buddha, but he who has need of little.