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Communicable Compassion

Faith communities in the coronavirus era


Just when we need church community the most, we’re being advised by public health experts to maintain “social distance” to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

It may seem paradoxical that in order to live out the love that binds us together in spiritual community, we may need to maintain physical distance from each other.  But paradox has always been a distinctive feature of Christianity and religion in general.  So much of the spiritual wisdom of the world centers on the seeming contradiction that salvation, personally and socially, comes through a reckoning with suffering.  The first “noble truth” of Buddhism is that all life is suffering.  The central symbol of Christianity is the cross on which Jesus suffered.  So, let our faith communities lead in living through this paradox.  We can show the way to turn this health crisis into a means of connecting more deeply, cherishing each other in our vulnerability.  We’ll be needing each other, spiritually and practically, as never before, due to the virus’ impact not only on health but on the economy.

For a while, we may need to shift much of the life of our congregations into the electronic realm.  We’ll need to get creative in holding our communities close through calls, texts, Facetime and Zoom.  Let me know your clever uses of social media in maintaining spiritually rich connections, and I’ll pass your experiences on to others!

Many faith traditions employ what the Hindu tradition refers to as “mudras” – positions of the hands in meditative prayer.  Some Christians pray or worship with their palms together with fingers upward, right thumb over the left thumb in the sign of the cross.  The Hindu “namaste” greeting is nearly the same, bowing with palms placed together.  Many Muslims greet each other by gently bowing with the palm of the hand over the heart.  This new era is a perfect one for us to employ these forms of greeting to show deep reverence for each other – a reverence that may preclude us from shaking hands and hugging for a while.  Let’s use these venerable means of greeting others with divine love, not only as a hygienic habit, but as a spiritual practice!

Rev. Jim Burklo, Associate Dean of Religious Life, USC
Website: MINDFULCHRISTIANITY.ORG  Follow me on twitter: @jtburklo
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Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California

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