Ramadan in Lockdown: Helping People Mourn Alone
I have been working remotely for some time now. Tele-chaplaincy lacks the physical presence between chaplain and patient. This physical presence is where the bulk of chaplaincy lies, as nonverbal communication is really at the heart of our practice. It means as chaplains, we must somehow communicate over the phone what could be said with silence in person. I find that my calls these days are full of words. I am still working out how to incorporate silence into my phone calls as I would in person.
This Ramadan, a month typically centered on communal gathering for Iftar and worship, we are attempting to experience community from afar, from behind screens. Mere projections of loved ones and neighbors cannot replace the familiar sweet scent of a beloved or the tight hugs where, heart-on-heart, you feel each other's aliveness, or the gravitas of a reciter's voice reverberating through your chest in prayer. Many of us may find ourselves mourning each other's presence in a time brimming with absence.
A nurse named Jonathan B. Bartels wrote in 2014 about The Pause. The Pause names the moment of silence healthcare workers offer with a patient directly after the person dies. This pause honors that person's life and is an opportunity for reflection on life's ultimate truth: death. The Pause has proven very meaningful to those who practice it. This national lockdown is a pause for all of us. Instead of wishing we were somewhere else, doing something else, let's settle into this pause and really see what comes up. What is your soul whispering to you? It could be the first time in your life that you truly look into yourself. Be in your body. Befriend your soul. That is you and you are here. And this is exactly where you need to be. The moment you accept your imminent death is the moment you come alive.
This year, Ramadan, a month-long "pause," falls within a moment of global pause. It is intense. But think back to before, the way we live "normally" is intense. It is the norm of profit over people. It is the norm of constant distraction, a distance from others even in close physical proximity, disconnection from the earth, disconnection from ourselves, a denial of death. In that normal, God feels very, very far.
However, we each have ourselves. Presence is, after all, most aptly cultivated in solitude. "To know yourself is to know your Lord" as the Hadith goes. The heavy silence in the distance between us may sound ominous, but listen closer. Silence is where the truth lives. It holds the Unmanifested, waiting to be known. Now is a unique time where we can dip into the silence and really listen. Suddenly the increasing distance between yourself and others brings you closer to yourself. "And We have already created the person and know what their soul whispers to them, and We are closer to them than their jugular vein," (Quran 50:16). Indeed, in being present with yourself you are in the company of Allah.
These days, reminders of our mortality strike everywhere we turn. It is as God intended, for us to contemplate the Divine and reflect on our own transience during this blessed month of Ramadan. It is as if divine decree has been cast on an unyielding people to teach us how to submit. Now more than ever the temporary nature of all that exists is made clear and we have nowhere to go and nothing we can do but accept and submit. Subhan Allah.
This chaplain is advocating for your increased presence during this time of isolation. We are in a global pandemic where many are sick and dying, and this is where we need to be. It is the only way to honor the lives of those who have passed and to dignify this moment. This chaplain urges you to be with yourself until you find God right there with you. We are not alone.