My partner and I intentionally live simply. We have carved out, over a number of years, a low-cost way of living that allows for neither of us to work professionally full time.
We also moved out of the city a couple of years ago, radically shifting our priorities and our environment from busy and overwhelming to slow and contemplative. We don’t own a television. We don’t live with wireless Internet. We don’t earn much monetarily, but we live in spiritual abundance.
Years ago we decided to shift our attention away from material accumulation in order to prioritize our spiritual, emotional, physical and mental health. We took to heart the preaching of Tricia Hersey of The Nap Ministry and chose to dismantle the violence of white supremacy and capitalism by making fundamental changes in our daily lives. We started to step back from activities and relationships that seemed more bent on boosting our egos than contributing to a more balanced sense of self. We withdrew, little by little, from the grind of what our society now deems to be a “normal” level of busyness. We battled daily with very real pressures to be more “successful” in the terms of the spiritually-bankrupt capitalist society that we live in and chose instead to be more purposeful.
So when the crisis of COVID-19 hit our home this summer, we found ourselves immersed in the necessary conditions we needed to recover. While loved ones near to us struggled to untie themselves from the demands of their daily lives in order to care for one another during this moment of crisis, we came to appreciate even more the spiritual space that we had been cultivating little by little for years. We realized that we had been holding space for the possibility of crisis all along.
We also came to realize that the crisis we were experiencing was not only caused by a global pandemic, but by a society deeply entrenched in a cultural crisis with no time and no space for responding humanely to the reality of human mortality.
As Leonardo Boff, world-renowned liberation theologian, asserts in his book Francis of Assisi: A Model for Human Liberation, “The basic root of our cultural crisis resides in the terrifying lack of gentleness and care of each other, of nature, and of our own future.”
Recognizing a cultural crisis at a societal level might not be as clear as recognizing a global pandemic because there are no warnings about a lack of gentleness from the World Health Organization or the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. These organizations will never release guidelines to address the terrifying lack of care among us. But the symptoms are just as real.
Who among us has not felt the pressure to keep working, keep producing, keep moving despite the collective trauma and grief of surviving a global pandemic? Who has not felt the lack of gentleness? Who has not witnessed the lack of care?
The third wave of COVID-19 finally hit our home in South America this summer. We knew it could happen at any time. My partner and I had been riding the first waves of this pandemic for well over a year and had felt our way through the loss of loved ones, the isolation of lockdowns and the anxiety and depression that accompany the navigation of a global pandemic. Personally, we had felt everything short of the symptoms of COVID-19 until they hit our home too.
One by one, my partner’s whole immediate family and then my partner and then myself experienced the physical symptoms of COVID-19 that we had heard so much about and tried for so long not to fear.
But we were scared. This wasn’t like any other experience of being physically ill that we had ever had. Despite our efforts, the fever wouldn’t break, the cough got worse and we were already receiving warnings about citywide oxygen shortages on the horizon.
We began to question what we thought we already knew. Were our immune systems ready? Were we spiritually ready? Was our family ready to weather this crisis together?
Months later, as we continue to take time and space to unpack the experience, I am still asking myself these questions. Each of us physically survived but none of us will be spiritually the same again.
In that dark and scary time, we also found clarity. We realized that the choices we have been making over the last few years were precisely what were shaping our response to this current crisis. We learned that our decision to live more simply did not make us physically immune to crisis but certainly made us more spiritually resilient.
As we collectively move through the continued transitions of this global pandemic may we not lose sight of the cultural crisis underpinning it all.
May we step back and take in a larger perspective focused on our collective need for a cultural transformation and the potential for spiritual solutions, like simple living, contemplation and community building. May we work together to create a world where we all have access to the gentleness and care necessary to grow resilience and learn to hold space in our communities for the crises yet to come.
How might you cultivate greater gentleness and care in your community? What does holding space for crisis look like in your life?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Annemarie Barrett grew up in the Midwest and now lives in Bolivia, South America. Her spiritual journey has been greatly influenced by the Catholic Worker Movement and the Franciscan charism of humble availability and deep solidarity. She has also been influenced and transformed by the unique experience of spending most of her life in Western, capitalist culture and now living for years in Andean culture that is much more communal and rooted in the wisdom of Indigenous communities. Today, she lives and farms with her partner and also creates and sells her original art under the name AEB Art.