This is a story about how I found spiritual support on the internet during the first part of the Covid crisis. First, I make a disclaimer. Social media activities that work for me may not be helpful or appropriate for you. Please use the internet with discernment and caution!
In the middle of March, 2020, the Treasure Valley started a Covid lockdown. We all experienced abrupt changes. The last day I worked as a substitute teacher was March 12. Our lockdown was announced a day or two later.
It was a time of fear and confusion. We weren’t sure how people got Covid. A lot of emphasis fell on sanitizing, and hand sanitizer, like toilet paper, disappeared from store shelves.
Today, we are more accustomed to disruption in supply chains and channels of distribution due to the pandemic. It was unsettling when these things first started happening.
We feared touching things last spring. We might let mail sit for a day before opening it. We wiped down our groceries with precious disinfecting wipes before putting them away. I patrolled my apartment with a spray bottle filled with bleach solution, spritzing high touch surfaces. It seemed like Covid could jump out at us from anywhere.
During this frightening time, I found a journaling activity on the internet through Kate Bowler, whose podcast I followed. Bowler is a professor at Duke University. Her specialty is the history of Christianity in North America. At the age of 35, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. She was eligible for an experimental treatment, and is with us six years after her diagnosis. She still has cancer.
Unlike many of us facing the Covid crisis, Bowler had practice living with sudden, awful life changes. She had an educated guess about how people might be feeling.
She set up an internet journaling activity, open to anyone interested. I believe I signed up through her website, https://www.katebowler.com. It was called “While It Was Yet Dark: A 7-Week Easter Practice.”
I got journal prompts for the seven weeks of the Easter liturgical calendar. Participants could share observations with each other in a common internet space. It was helpful to read other people’s thoughts about what we were all going through.
There were five writing prompts. The idea was to set our mental focus in the morning and then assess the day in the evening. We could write as much or as little as we pleased.
We started by assessing our emotional batteries. Fully charged? Halfway? Drained? Then we could note who and what we wanted to pray for. The evening prompt asked us where we found connection and community that day. We could add three things which gave us hope, and finally, reflect on the best choice we made.
Kate would send us her own reflections and blessings, always advising us to have a “beautiful, terrible day.” I started following a few fellow participants on Instagram. Occasionally, I would follow people these social media acquaintances mentioned in their Instagram posts. Now, in addition to the usual Instagram network of family, friends, and pets, I follow a few thoughtful people who share positive posts.
The daily writing helped me cope with the fear and uncertainty of the early Covid experience. It eased my sense of isolation. It wasn’t the only thing I did to support myself during this time, but it was a steady, calming ritual.
Recently, I looked back at things I noted in my journal as giving me hope. I cleaned a bathroom. I watched A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, about Mr. Rogers. I accomplished errands. I discussed a book with my brother and sister. I sat on my balcony with my plants. Something worthwhile happened every day.
That initial period of the Covid crisis in the U.S. seems far away. The situation was so new, so bizarre, and so frightening. We had no idea how bad things would get. Doctors were learning how to treat Covid patients by trial and error. Parts of the country that were doing fine would suddenly be hit by a wave of the disease. We didn’t know if a vaccine could be developed.
I think the disease is as scary as ever, but we understand more about it. Doctors can treat it, if they have the resources. We still have no idea when global Covid will be brought under control, but the struggle is now familiar.
If I hadn’t done the Eastertide journaling activity designed by Kate Bowler, I’m sure I would have gotten through those first months of the crisis, but this journaling exercise helped me. I will always be grateful for it. If nothing else, it showed me how I could connect with people who were together in spiritual community, though separated in time and space.