As I walk into my house after work, I pull off my mask and with relief I breathe- a long deep breath.
I can breathe.
On May 25 George Floyd was handcuffed by a white police officer who pinned him to the ground. The officer kept his knee on George’s neck for 8 minutes 46 seconds as George begged for his life.
I can’t breathe.
The whole world saw the gaping wound of racism. Crowds spilled onto the streets to protest a system that wreaks havoc on the lives of people of colour.
A system that
takes advantage of people
denies a place at the table where decisions are made
considers some people expendable
values white lives more than the lives of people of colour
refuses to recognize the inherent goodness of all.
I can’t breathe.
I think of the people that I know who can’t breathe.
When Elsa walks into the learning center, you usually hear a deep sigh. A conversation recently went something like this. “They had me working ten hours yesterday. (she’s a housekeeper at a downtown hotel) It’s not busy today so I’m here. I don’t know about tomorrow. Hope I can make rent this month. I’m exhausted. It’s the uncertainty.”
I can’t breathe.
Before the pandemic, this was a typical day for Lyntrell. It began early. Her younger son had to be ready for the school bus at 6:00 A.M. Lyntrell depended on public transportation to get to work for 7:00A.M. She worked at a Catholic school cafeteria. When work finished at 2:30 P.M. she caught a bus to Delgado Community College where she is studying to be a nurse. When she got home about 5:00 P.M. the day wasn’t over. Her children needed help with homework and dinner had to be prepared. Scars from an abusive relationship have taken their toll on Lyntrell. As she said recently, “It plays on my mind. It’s a lot of pressure. I’m determined to make it for me and my sons. I get depressed a lot.”
I can’t breathe.
I talked with our neighbor, Marie, after George Floyd was killed. She has a son who has been in trouble with the law. She’s worried. She knows her son is a police target. ”Every time I see him leave the house, I think about what could happen,” she said.
I can’t breathe.
During these times I am reminded of the disproportionate number of African American who have died of COVID-19. This is attributed to the lack of access to healthcare and poor diet from an early age.
I can’t breathe.
On May 31, Pentecost Sunday, I went to church, my first time since COVID-19 hit. I got a jolt as I listened to the gospel reading. Jesus came into the room where the disciples were and he breathed on them. The breath, the Spirit of God, filled the room. The same Spirit that came on Jesus as he began his public ministry.
The Spirit that sent him out to
bring good news to the poor
liberty to captives
sight to the blind
let the oppressed go free
The happenings of the last few weeks are fresh on my mind. George Floyd’s last breath is now somehow connected with the breath, the Spirit, that Jesus breathed on the disciples.
The Spirit that
makes us restless in face of injustice, inequality and discrimination
liberates the oppressed and the oppressor
recognizes the preciousness of all lives
calls us out of our hiding places
May we sense George’s cry for breath deep down in our souls so that the breath, the Spirit of God, can come upon us.
An excerpt from Lynn Ungar’s poem “Breathe” is pertinent:
Breathe, said the wind.
How can I breathe at a time like this….
Just breathe, the wind insisted.
Easy for you to say, if the weight of
Injustice is not wrapped around your throat,
Cutting off all air.
I need you to breathe
Don’t tell me to be calm
When there are so many reasons
To be angry, so much cause for despair!
I didn’t say to be calm, said the wind.
I said to breathe
We’re going to need a lot of air
To make this hurricane together.
Sr. Lilianne Flavin OP
HOPE HOUSE, NEW ORLEANS
WHAT WILL WE DO?
What will we do when we’re free again?
Emerge from our cocoons: cells of self-knowledge,
*Catherine-like, God-infused, eager for mission?
Or will isolation be our sheathe,
content withdrawal from community’s demands,
from the world’s pain,
where millions complain, “I can’t breathe.”
Let us form thoughts that breathe
into being a new way of living.
Share words of hope, born of conviction and passion.
Listen to the heart of the other
beat a rhythm that connects
the ancient past to the unseen future
through the fragile present.
And then ………….
make a pact ………..
* St. Catherine of Siena was in self isolation for three years due to the Bubonic Plague.
Sr. Maeve McMahon OP
Terry Waite in an article titled You are not stuck at home, you are safe, (express.co.uk 4/4/2020) wrote about his five years in captivity (isolation) in Beirut “ ….I now realise it was one of the most formative and creative periods of my life. It is not all doom and gloom. Hard it certainly is but suffering need not destroy. Out of it, something creative and quite unexpected can emerge. Also, remember that although some may be physically alone you are never completely alone….”
During the next few weeks we will share with you some prayers, poems, reflections and pieces of art that our sisters have produced during Covid19. We invite you to ‘log in’ and enjoy their creative reflections, access via link below.
As each country moves into different stages of Covid 19, we are united with all in prayer. We will continue to receive our sisters creative contributions throughout the Summer months and will post them on the website at regular intervals.
A special thanks to Sisters Matilde, (inspired by Honor), Colette, Columba ,Elisabeth, Bernadette Marie, Maeve and Pauline for their contributions. We are delighted to continue to share their creativity with you. Creative Wk10
A special thanks to Sisters Maeve, Maighread, Cora, Helena, Mary Moriarty, Brighde (Vallely) for this weeks reflections. We are delighted to continue to share their creativity with you.Creative expressions Wk9
A special thanks to Sisters Brighde (Vallely), Cora, Angela, Shelia (Mullan) and Ms Elsabe O’Leary our General Chapter facilitator. Creative Expressions Wk8Now that Covid 19 restrictions are being eased we hope that freedom will bring creativity and we look forward to sharing more responses weeks ahead.
A special thanks to Sisters Maeve, Laura, Veronica (Rafferty), who have responded this week. We are delighted to share their creativity with you. Creative Reflections Covid19 Wk7
A special thanks to Sisters Maeve, Laura Gormley (S.S.L.), Laura (Looby), Columbia, Angela who have responded this week. We are delighted to share their creativity with you. Creative Reflections Covid19 Wk 6
A special thanks to Sisters Rose, Padraigín, Columbia, Maighread, Lucina, Maeve and Edel who have responded this week.We are delighted to share their creativity with you. Creative Expressions Week5
A special thanks to Sisters Pauline, Kathy, Veronica, Columbia, and Jeannette who have responded this week. We are delighted to share their creativity with you. Enjoy! Creative Expressions Wk4
A special thanks to Sisters Maeve, Lilianne, Columbia, Caitriona, Fionnuala, Jeanette and our Sisters in Argentina, who have responded this week. Enjoy! COVID-19 Wk 3
A special thanks to Sisters Catherine Campbell, Bridget O’ Driscoll, Miriam Weir and Edel Murphy who have responded this week and we are delighted to share their creativity with you. Enjoy Creativity Covid19 Wk2
A special thanks to Sisters Matilde, Genevieve, Celine and Cora who are the first responders and we are delighted to share their creativity with you. Enjoy!Creative Reflections Covid19
Both documents are also on the AMRI website: www.amri.ie
Covid-19, some things will never be the same. Many parts of society will undergo what the early 20th-century economist Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction,” where sclerotic structures and outdated habits are rudely dispatched. For many in higher education, this means a bold new future: online learning.
In March, the Fox News host Tucker Carlson crowed, “The charade is exposed.” That is, a university education can be delivered “in an entirely different way. You don’t have to drive to campus, buy textbooks, pay for room and board in order to get an education. You can do the whole thing online.” Mr. Carlson’s optimism was matched by the political scientist Anne-Marie Slaughter, who wrote in The New York Times that universities “will be surprised to discover that online teaching can actually be better than physical classrooms.”
Zoom is a poor substitute for the physical classroom, where peers can look each other in the eye and convey their points with full intensity or emotion.
They are wrong. Universities must not rush into reforms that dismiss what is unique and essential to the experience they offer—or should offer. They are not mere means to transfer information; they also provide the moral and political training that teaches young people what it means to be part of a democracy and civil society.
The pandemic has forced me to convene my seminar classes on Zoom. My students appear at the appointed hour, their faces in neat boxes on the edge of my computer screen, and we forge ahead as best we can. Conversation is stilted, however, and hardly so free-flowing as when we could meet in person. This is a poor substitute for the physical classroom, where peers can look each other in the eye and convey their points with full intensity or emotion.
This experience has made me appreciate John Dewey’s claim that the principal value of schooling is socialization. The school, in his view, is community writ small; it provides intensive practice in what it means to be part of a community, and students learn the talents and challenges and habits that successful community life entails. For these reasons, Dewey concluded, schools play a central role in developing democratic citizens.
Ideally, universities serve this democratic purpose better than any other level of education. In the college classroom, where professors encourage incisive reflection and debate about sensitive or controversial topics, students learn to interact in crucial ways. Among peers from varying backgrounds, social milieus, income brackets, races, religions, regions and nations, students negotiate all manner of disagreements and disputes, and learn to cooperate and communicate.
Unfortunately, many students in my Zoom classes turn off their cameras, hiding their faces and muting their voices. How “present” are they? I can never tell. To me, online learning fails a central principle of Jesuit education—cura personalis, or care for the whole person. This principle was instilled in me as an undergraduate, then in my first teaching job at Boston College. But how am I to attend to the whole of the person if I see only part of them?
Digital platforms allow us to show as much or as little of ourselves as we like. They effectively allow us to retreat, but the whole point of the college classroom is that you cannot retreat. That is, you learn how to present yourself in public and also develop the courage to explore ideas and challenge opinions.
It seems ludicrous to expand the pedagogical role of digital media when their destructive impact on political discourse is widely recognized.
These skills depend on the nuances of communication, like vocal tone, facial expression and physical mannerisms—how you stand, how you tilt your head and hold someone’s gaze, whether you fiddle with their fingers or perspire. Digital media fail to capture all this, and so we fail to read people accurately. This misreading can sow much conflict and discord.
Indeed, it seems ludicrous to expand the pedagogical role of digital media when their destructive impact on political discourse is widely recognized. Social media are designed to deliver short, simple, monochromatic missives—which must be outrageous and eye-catching to rise above the din. Zoom is little better: Conversation is halting and laborious, and it is too difficult to explain nuanced positions while keeping people’s attention. Digital media make it too easy to insult or offend and then walk away (or close the computer). Digital citizens become more entrenched in their opinions, less likely to reach out and build bridges.
Philosophers have long argued that the key to defusing destructive emotions—like anger, hatred, fear or envy—is to see people as three-dimensional entities, with complex backgrounds and motivations. Humans are too often inclined not to do so. We tend to see people too simply, their actions “free,” as Spinoza put it, wholly self-determined and cut off from a chain of determining causes. But the more we understand or imagine those long chains of causes, Spinoza argued, the less angry we are at perceived offenses. And this clears the way for productive interaction. The goal is to grasp, as far as possible, the context of people’s actions and words—or simply the fact that there is a broader context. This makes for empathy.
In online interactions, we hardly glimpse this context. We are also accustomed to, and demand, immediate responses, which generally rules out careful premeditation.
Digital platforms can enhance the classroom experience when used judiciously. Zoom is useful for impromptu, one-on-one meetings with students when they are immersed in the writing process and are faced with a complicated question—requiring a complicated answer. And universities can be forgiven for using digital media to make it through these extraordinary and trying times. But online learning should not be more than a temporary measure. It cannot eclipse what is unique to the university experience.
On Saturday 20th June 2020 we celebrated Foundation Day in Dominican Convent Wicklow, 150 years since the first seven Dominican Sisters came to Wicklow on the 20th June 1870. On Saturday seven Dominican women, some of whom are foundresses of An Tairseach, honoured their memories and legacy.
Unfortunately due to Covid 19 restrictions other Dominican sisters, their friends and colleagues could not join them for their planned Garden Party celebration. Just one of neighbour could join them, Molly the cat (she kept her social distance). The community also celebrated the summer solstice. they said “We are with you this day in a spirit of thanksgiving for the generosity of the Sun, in appreciation of the blossoming of life. Oh ‘what a wonderful world’ we live in.
In a recent article in our Covid-19 newsletter, [Week 8] Sr. Brighde Vallely made reference to an article she had read, Christianity in a time of sickness, which was written by a sociologist and theologian, Fr. Tomás Halík, in America, the Jesuit Weekly. While acknowledging that Covid-19 had exposed the fissures in the social, economic, ecological and spiritual foundations of our global world, Halík went on to ask that we, Christians, members of one of the earliest global organisations, should respond to the challenge of a world that has changed. It wouldn’t be sufficient to attempt to update external structures in our church, but rather, we should reflect on how to continue Pope Francis’ call to reform: “Shift towards the heart of the Gospel, ‘a journey into the depths.’”(Halík)
We carry in our minds from this state of emergency, the images of closed and empty churches. We shouldn’t miss the symbolism. We’re all outside locked church doors. Is Jesus within? Halík says that Jesus has already, “knocked from within and come out- and it is our job to seek him and follow him.” This past Easter, one couldn’t but draw a parallel between the empty churches and the empty tomb. When the disciples reached the tomb, they heard a voice from above saying, “He is not here. He has risen. He has gone ahead of you to Galilee.”
Where is the Galilee in our world today where we can find Jesus? For a number of people, Galilee is the crowded Wards and Intensive Care Units of our hospitals. God is the front-line workers who risk their lives, so that others might have the chance to continue living. These essential workers are part of what Brighde writes about: “The huge and rare outflow of love that has encircled vulnerable planet earth.”
We know that there are believers and nonbelievers among the front line workers: people whose love is selfless. Halík shares sociological research which indicates that the number of believers, those who identify with the traditional form of religion, is falling in the world while there is an increase in the number of seekers. He observes that “the main dividing line is no longer between those who consider themselves believers and those who consider themselves non-believers. There are seekers among believers (those for whom faith is not a legacy, but a way) and among nonbelievers, who reject the religious notions put forward to them by those around them but nevertheless have a yearning for something to satisfy their thirst for meaning. I am convinced that the ‘Galilee of today,’ where we must seek God who has survived death, is the world of the seekers.” (Halík)
With a warning to abandon our proselytizing aims, we are reminded that just as Jesus refrained from pushing the lost sheep of Israel back into the structures of the Judaism of his day, we should refrain from “entering the world of the seekers to convert them as quickly as possible and squeeze them into the existing institutional and mental confines of our churches.”(Halik)
Is there a special challenge in this for members of the Order of Preachers? What exactly does our motto, “Contemplare et contemplate aliis tradere” mean in our Covid-19 world? Is the seeker a person who is prepared to get to a new depth of awareness, one who might ask some transformational questions as Sr. Angela Campion hopes? One who will work with others on the answers? Maybe we have some basic questions with which we should begin? What has this time been like for women? Have they found meaning in a home church – gathered around the family table much in the way the Jews replaced the altar of the destroyed temple and the sacrificial offering with reflection and study of Scripture? Is this the time for a new chapter of Christianity – when disparate groups of men and women; lay, married, male and female members of religious orders, young and not so young, ponder the revelation of God in our time so as to bring about the kingdom of justice, peace, love and care for the earth? Can we include the marginalized who are seekers too? There are so many questions. Can we work together on the answers?
One of my students revealed God to me recently. She was passing a church just as she saw danger coming towards her in the form of three known rapists. Her heart missed a beat. Then – “I winked over at Jesus,” she told me. The three thugs turned down another path. Yeah. Jesus covered her back. “Thank you, Jesus,” she said as she finished telling me about the incident. I don’t know the last time my friend was in church.