Caring for the vulnerable and for ourselves

As I write this, we are currently in our first week of our online learning and so far, it seems that it is generally going well. Our staff across our three campuses are truly incredible and they have been so creative in developing engaging academic and pastoral activities for our students.

These are indeed uncharted waters and the situation is escalating all the time and we find ourselves waking up every day to new directives about how to live. Understandably, many people are extremely worried and the city has an eerie feel to it as more and more businesses are closing down and the distance physically between us all increase. It seems like we are just waiting for a massive storm to hit us!

My heart and thoughts particularly go out to the many people who are already vulnerable in our community and around the world. I feel for the many who have lost their jobs and who face uncertain economic times.

I am also deeply concerned about the students in schools who don’t have the same electronic facilities as us and I am particularly concerned for the people who are recovering from the massive bushfires across our land and who now have to face this new crisis. We have not forgotten those communities and with the church and with the help of the Melbourne Grammar community we will do our bit to reach out and help struggling rural communities wounded from the fires.

It also concerns me that the church in Australia and in some countries overseas has closed its doors for the first times for two thousand years. Not even during the Great Plague did the church ever close its doors.

I understand that we need to protect each other and that the most loving thing we can do is practising physical distance. However, the church exists for the people and, while we cannot hold our usual services, which will be very strange during Holy Week and Easter, we can reach out virtually and by the phone to each other and we can support the most vulnerable in our communities by practising charity and we can of course pray for each other.

Many churches continue to live stream their services and I recommend, for example, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby’s daily reflections.

Should our off-campus learning continue well into Term 11, I will also post regular reflections, quotes and prayers to our students, staff and other members of the community.

During this time of crisis and increasing isolation it seems we are all being invited into a prolonged Sabbath time. As we all renounce travel, parties, gatherings, sporting and cultural activities, we are invited to slow down and make the most of the quiet family time.

While it is a sad and frightening time and while we may not, therefore, sleep particularly well, there are many ways we can make most of this time of introspection.

Personally, I have set my home study up as a little contemplative space. In this space I can practice some degree of pilates and yoga and I can pray and meditate, listen to music, write, think and work. I have found it very useful to set up a space in my own house dedicated to exercise, contemplation and work.

I recommend to all of you, if you have space, to find a place in your house, even if it is ‘only’ a chair where you sit daily and try to let go of your worries and instead seek to be grateful and focus your attention on the present moment and God’s loving presence in our hearts.

I remember once hearing an interview with the former Prime Minister, Paul Keating, where he was asked about the way he unwound from big days in the office. He mentioned that almost every day when he came home from work, he would sit or lie down and listen to a whole classical symphony from beginning to end and he spoke insightfully about how immersing himself in classical music helped calmed his mind down.

Similar to Paul Keating, music for me is a source of great inspiration and it helps me calm down and it centres me. During these difficult times, such as this one we find ourselves in, I have found great peace and joy in daily listening to the music by the Italian pianist and composer, Ludovico Einaudi. Einaudi’s latest album, Seven Days Walking, was inspired by the composer’s long walks during the winter month of January in the mountains. I highly recommend this beautiful album to you.

I particularly recommend that you listen to Einaudi’s music immediately upon waking up and after a long day. Instead of consuming endless articles about the Epidemic first thing in the morning and the last thing before sleeping, listening to deeply tranquil and spiritual music, such as Einaudi’s compositions, can help calm us down and get us in touch with and enjoy this one precious life we have been given.  

As well as listening to music I have also found inspiration this week in the Zen Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh’s sage tips for, “staying sane in challenging times” and I share some of them with you here: 

1. Guard the morning (and start it gently). Train yourself to begin the day with a few gentle breaths and a smile, before even getting out of bed (or checking the phone). Make the vow to live every hour of the day deeply, with compassion.

2. Savour your tea or coffee, slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the earth revolves. Follow your breathing, relax the body, look out the window, listen to your heartbeat.

3. Enjoy every step of breakfast-making. Life is made of small moments. There is nowhere to hurry to, nothing to get done. This is it! Enjoy the presence of your loved ones, and the wonder of having enough to eat.

4. When you’re ready to work, work. Free yourself from distractions, and cultivate one-pointed mind. But don’t forget to take care of your body while at the computer! Set a bell to sound so you can stretch every 30 minutes or so.

5. Take time to walk in mindfulness. If you can go outside and get in touch with nature, wonderful. If you’re indoors, no problem: you can practice slow walking meditation, a powerful way to release tension and anxiety.

6. Take a nap after lunch for 20 minutes, or practice deep relaxation (body scan) while lying down. Even just 10 or 15 minutes of releasing tension can set you free and refresh you before you keep working.

7. Nourish yourself. Nothing can survive without food. Fear, anxiety and despair may be “fed” by what we read, see and hear. Likewise, our compassion, trust and gratitude can be fed by choosing inspiring books, music, audio & conversations.

8. Sweat every day. In our practice centres the monastics do physical exercise or sport every day. It’s essential to circulate our energy, stay healthy, and release tension and feelings that are stored in every cell of our body.

9. Reach out to loved ones. Let them know you are there for them. Ask what their deepest hopes and fears are. Write them a love letter. Forgive those who need forgiving.

Finally, I encourage you all to pray during this time. There are many wonderful prayers being written at the moment but nothing beats some of the old tried and tested and much loved ones from our Anglican tradition.

As we remember our loved ones and virtually reach out to friends and neighbours and each other, I recommend this little beautiful prayer which you could say with special attention to those affected by the Coronavirus.

Keep watch dear Lord, with those who work, or watch or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen

Prayer from Book of Common Prayer

I wish you all a safe and peaceful holiday break. Take good care of each other and remember to be grateful for each moment and for your families and pray for those who are less fortunate here in Australia and around the world.

Blessings,

Rev’d Hans Christiansen