Work and Prayer in Time of Pandemic

We’ve been home, away from prayer and work for eight (long) weeks.  Supposedly, we’re praying and working from home.  In an attempt to execute this formidable task, at least with respect to “work,” I’ve occupied my dining room (it’s an explosion equal to that of my office now), while my husband has set up camp in my daughter’s room (which he breaks down every afternoon, so she won’t freak out).

But, sitting in these corners of our house typing away on laptops, of course, gives one cause to grow antsy.  Really antsy.  Instead of walking down the hall to find a colleague to chat with, or a chapel to pray in, I walk around my house and imagine all the things I should clean, organize, or otherwise take apart and put together again.

Assembling of Radio Flyer Tricycle - YouTubeAnd, such wanderings have been quite productive: I assembled a tricycle.  I made three pans of muffins and a pie in the past 10 days.  I scoured the soapscum out of our bathroom shower (take THAT, 1970’s blue formica!).  I tackled the sunporch which had devolved into dubiously stacked winter storage.

Yet, task-oriented as I am, and as delighted as I am that my shower is clean (or at least that I’m eating muffins), this has been a dark time.  I’ve gotten some “work” done.  But my prayer life is a wreck.

Without a colleague to remind me to be joyful, or a chapel to sit in…let alone the absence of the Mass…I am struggling to pray.

This struggle has been palpably present because I have been studiously avoiding my little home prayer corner, with its designated chair.  This little chair—one of the last remaining refugees from my grad school furniture suite of hand-me-downs—exists solely for me to sit and pray in it.  It is orange.  It is decently comfortable.  It faces icons.  It is in a quiet spot (assuming we have no distressed child).  But it’s also covered in piles of things.  Maternity clothes I no longer need to wear.  Winter blankets I’ve pulled off our beds.  A mix of baby toys and kids’ socks (discarded by my son), and play food (deposited by my daughter).  There is literally no room for me—not at this table of prayer.

Why, I wonder, is it so easy to be complacent when one prays alone?  Why can’t I just clean off the chair?  I realize, as each week rushes by and falls off the precipice of the past, that I need and want the liturgy to hold me accountable.  I need and want a community to look into my eyes and give me the sign of peace.  I need and want voices around me to sing a song of joy.  Sitting  alone in my chair—whether at the dining room table or in my room—simply has devolved into a mess I feel I can’t control; much like the ominous destruction of the pandemic coursing through our world.

Yet my dark nights of the soul are no match for the Gospel.  What are we to do when darkness surrounds us?  We are called to wait for the Lord, for the day is near.  Christ came back from death’s domain to shed peaceful light upon humanity.  I believe in Christ.  I believe that peace will return.  I believe we will pray together again.  I also believe my children will sleep, but that’s another story.

So what can I do to trim my lamp while I’m waiting?  Yes, I can bake more muffins.  But, how about I start by cleaning off my chair?

5 comments

  1. What a wonderful reflection. A couple of thoughts:

    First, I agree that it can be a challenge to integrate one’s home life and spiritual life, especially as we are all well-trained that there is a different “place” to pray, which is separate from our homes (for most of us, that place is the parish church). When I try to sit down at home and pray, I find that I become antsy – for some of the same reasons you’ve named (“I need to vacuum over there!”). In my own case – and I don’t claim this isn’t a sort of surrender to the world; I’m not sure exactly what to make of it, but it’s how I’ve accommodated prayer into my home life – I’ve integrated prayer and tasks around the home. I pray when I’m washing dishes, making dinner, folding laundry. As long as it isn’t something which requires too much competition for my attention, it seems to work. YMMV.

    Second – if (when things were normal) you work in a place where you are able to integrate work and prayer, then that is a reason to offer fervent thanks! My own work life has been in corporate America. While I won’t claim that it is exactly soul-sucking, it can be pretty secular. Not that there aren’t spiritual opportunities there, too. But I wouldn’t describe it as a culture which is supportive of spirituality.

  2. I work in a human rights and equity office and work from home. At least in Ontario, employers are obligated to accommodate for family status (e.g. caring for disabled child or elderly family) or even mental health up to the point of undue hardship. There was a case where an employee requested an accommodation but was denied because the employer claimed being present was an essential requirement. Now with Covid 19 the employee is working from home !!!! There goes the essential requirement argument! So the upshot is that I can anticipate a raft of people requesting accommodation when this is all over and how can employers argue that you need to be on site. Some employees such as me would like to be on site, others prefer to work at home. Can we make this a choice? Also what about a guaranteed annual income to support economy as there will likely be lots of job losses that won’t come back. Already before this stores were being shuttered due to .amazon shopping. Now most stores and grocery stores have delivery or pick up. This will likely continue and I fear the increasing breakdown of community

  3. Thanks for this lovely reflection. It strikes me that your avoidance of the “prayer chair” is something monastics also experience regularly! The acedia that sometimes kicks in when we know we’re supposed to be doing our own lectio divina is real. We at least have a communal expectation holding us accountable for personal prayer time as well as liturgy, but the itch to do what needs doing is real!

  4. Thanks to all for the kind words of encouragement! As an update: I have now cleaned off that chair. And last evening, I even sat in it!

  5. Thank you for that reflection. I live alone in a small house, allegedly a ‘Three Bedroom Home’ (UK Estate Agent speak), which is in fact a one-bedroom-and-two-cubbyholes home. One of the tiny rooms I made into a house chapel, where I say my prayers every day. It is more elaborate than a prayer chair and it is somewhere apart (inasfar as is possible in such a small house). I have a Crucifix based on one at Taize painted fo me years ago, and icons. I find that having such a space I can more easily make a break with house routine, ‘go somewhere’ and pray. But isolation isn’t easy, I have to try very hard to retain a sense of each day’s identity. The Daily Office helps, but it is the contact with parishioners and others which would really restore a sense of normality. I have, however, done some house cleaning and tidying up, as clutter further erodes the sense of each day’s special character. And things like Friday no meat and Sunday Mass are also good, though I have to celebrate the latter on my own!

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