The Spiritual Aftermath of Covid-19

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Álvaro Lobo Arranz, SJ

 Álvaro Lobo Arranz, SJ / COVID-19 / 29 March 2021


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A catastrophe can shape the way a generation thinks, as can be testified by children who are born after a war, mothers who see their children fleeing poverty, and the millions of refugees in the world today. In the history of humanity, wars, pandemics and famines, as recurring phenomena, require an adequate understanding of their causes and consequences, otherwise there is a high risk of repeating mistakes, losing our way and becoming shipwrecked again.

In the specific case of pandemics, repercussions can be even more deleterious, because the culprit is not the aggressive neighbor or the absence of rain: the scourge is not just invisible, it is inside us. If it is difficult to cure it, it is even more difficult to understand. As an example of a pandemic, many history books[1] cite the Black Death of 1348.[2] But it should be emphasized that this type of calamity does not belong only to the reviled Middle Ages: it is enough to mention smallpox in the 16th century, cholera in the 19th or the so-called (improperly) Spanish Flu of a century ago.

Viruses and bacteria do not understand economics. Yet the hardest hit groups have always been the poor and those trying to help them. When the population was decimated, it produced demographic shifts, food shortages and price rises that altered the social order in a matter of months. Perhaps the area in which the impact was strongest was religious and existential. Those ancestors of ours did not, of course, have our technology. Each generation tried to answer the questions that arose with the tools they had, and among the causes put forward that of divine punishment was the favorite. Above all, the way of understanding the world was altered, to the point that the perceptions of God and humans, death and life, could change in a few years. Sometimes reality exceeds fantasy, and pandemics can become real turning points.[3]

Unlike the case with other pandemics, this crisis has caused us to employ rivers of ink about the physical and psychological aftermath. For many patients who survived Covid-19, the personal story did not end with a tale to tell their grandchildren, the loss of hair or the sense of smell. There are serious long-term physical consequences: among others, altered coagulation of fluids or pulmonary fibrosis. These are not to be taken lightly. The same goes for psychological consequences, such as post-traumatic stress in those who have spent weeks in intensive care, or the tendency to depression during isolation, not to mention addiction to social networks and eating disorders in adolescents. In addition, knowing from experience what this pandemic is like and what previous ones have been like, one asks the question: What are the spiritual after-effects of Covid-19?

Soon the death toll, the ambulance sirens and the concern for our loved ones will come to present us with the bill: they all remind us that we are not machines. But on this point we should go deeper, because the spiritual sphere does not coincide with the psychological, although sometimes we find it difficult to distinguish them. There are aspects in common, and yet we repeat that they are not the same thing. It is not at the same level as getting excited about a beautiful song, enjoying a sunset over the sea or being anxious about an exam. Spirituality pertains to our relationship with transcendence, therefore it is a relationship; it contemplates an otherness. It is a function of this bond that we relate to our reality – other people, context, nature, time, space, society and culture – and to ourselves. Everything is connected, and changes affect us so intimately precisely because they challenge our way of being in the world and how we perceive our identity, our freedom and our existence.

Spiritual consequences have a particular characteristic: they can be transformed into opportunities. We find a significant and recurring example of this in the experience of Saint Ignatius of Loyola[4]: the cannonball that injured his leg also initiated a change of life and a very fruitful spiritual conversion. Each of these consequences has a positive side and, although we do not know how, they will one day bear fruit, as happens to the vine after each pruning.

 

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