With most of the nation under stay-at-home orders, the media are taking an upbeat attitude to the tragic lockdown. Most treat it as a temporary measure that we must endure before getting back to normal.
Thus, the Internet is full of lists of things we can do while at home. They present lockdown as an opportunity for projects, hobbies, movies and home cooking that we never had time to do before. People can develop better family relationships and improve their marriages.
All these things might help people cope with the crisis. However, I think this is a shallow approach. It reveals a fear of going deeper into our predicament. No one asks questions about the immense damage to the economy, the duration of the crisis or the serious possibility that things will not return to normal.
What Are Americans Thinking About?
We need to look deeper into the minds of countless Americans if we are to cope. We need to go beyond the Internet lists. Many have lost their jobs and are suffering. At this stage, I cannot say where this crisis will lead. But something profound is happening, and I suspect a lot of people are searching for answers.
Exploring these currents can encourage us to see that we are not the only citizens thinking beyond the superficial pastimes the media propose. My report will be based on a survey sent out to a group of 150 similarly-minded Catholics asking how the crisis has impacted them negatively and positively and what they are thinking about.
I realize the sample is very limited. Any kind of analysis will be anecdotal. However, the results were surprising. It was not about home projects or personal development. The answers were very spiritual.
Thus, I will give the three positive and negative themes found in the responses that impressed me.
Three Positive Things
This survey of Catholics took as a given that all would be afflicted by the lack of Sacraments at the time when they need them the most. Indeed, most sorely lamented the closing of churches and services.
The first theme that impressed me was the number of those who said that they are praying much more, and more fervently, as a result of the crisis. Parents and families are praying more together. They are reading spiritual books and fortifying themselves in the Faith.
“My faith is stronger in the trial,” said one. “It has allowed me much more time for prayer and contemplation!”
“This time of social isolation has allowed me to deepen my prayer life,” said another. “I find that I am spending more time in prayer, up to at least two hours a day, as well as thinking about how I can better live my life as a child of God.”
“I am led to pray the rosary several times a day instead of just at night when I go to bed. I have also gone to church each day just to sit in front of the tabernacle. Thank God our church is still open for prayer.”
One person reports, “seeing with much more clarity the implications of all my sins.”
A second positive theme is increased contact with the family. The lockdown has forced people together in the home. Despite the hardships of unemployment, many family members are grateful for the time they can spend together. Others have reconnected from afar with relatives and friends. “It has helped me to be more thoughtful,” wrote one respondent.
The third way the crisis has been positive is that people report that their lives have slowed down. “We are enjoying the slower pace and the opportunity to be together more,” wrote one mother.
Yet another wrote of the joys of “slowing down and learning what is important.” People seem to rejoice in being relieved of the burden of speed.
Three Negative Things
The most negative impact of the crisis is the anxiety over job loss. People naturally are concerned about their families and livelihood. However, even this concern takes on a spiritual dimension. Many see these changes as an opportunity “not to take things for granted” and to “challenge them to have more faith in God.”
A second negative impact is a concern for others who are suffering misfortune, illness and unemployment. Many are praying for others and looking for ways to help them. They are also missing those social relationships that are now severed at this time.
A final negative theme is worrying over America’s future. Some are seeing “how horrific the world really is” or “the great spiritual chasm” present in our society between those who believe and those who don’t. One respondent remarked that “so many people are caught up in just being in motion and rarely contemplate higher things. Most academics dismiss theology as superstition, confusing all other religions with the true religion.”
God in Control
These are some topics that Americans are thinking about during this time of crisis. The results are far from conclusive. The survey only reflects a tiny sample. However, I suspect that these themes extend to many more religious-minded Americans.
We are still at the beginning of this crisis, and thus attitudes can change as things worsen. The replies challenge us to think beyond the noise that surrounds the coronavirus debate.
One particularly touching commentary that appeared in several responses to the survey was the notion that God is in control. Thus, one man wrote:
“The bottom line is God is in control. You do whatever it takes to stay in the state of grace, do your distancing, take care of your duties and place everything in Our Lady’s hands. Don’t worry, have confidence knowing God is in control. Ask for help to carry your cross and go ahead.”