When isolation disrupts your regular routine and you can’t get to Mass, it doesn’t need to result in spiritual disconnection or disruption to your prayer life. Proving isolation doesn’t need to hinder personal prayer, Sr Rita Malavisi RSJ from the Sisters of St Joseph offers some advice on connecting with the sacred without leaving the house.
Speaking while self-isolating herself (after being sent back from Chicago at the beginning of the city’s Covid-19 lockdown), Sr Rita believes maintaining a regular routine is a useful foundation for creating sacred spaces at home. ‘I wake up at the same time every day, I pray in the morning, shower, breakfast and then I plan to watch a live stream of Mass,’ Sr Rita says.
With a teaching background, one of her focus areas is in helping others find centeredness and creating stillness within themselves.
While isolated, her daily routine watching Mass is the same: ‘I go to a separate room, separated from everybody else, so I can be in spiritual communion with the Mass I’m streaming on my computer,’ she says.
You can form a sense of connection by creating a sacred space at home for watching online Mass, she believes. This might be as simple as creating a special place in your home, whether it’s a dining table or coffee table and adorning it with a special table cloth.
And for those who don’t have the luxury of space, Sr Rita suggests a few simple decorations to a bookshelf or empty nook. ‘We might place a special cross or a candle there, some rosary beads, or an icon to create that special little sacred space,’ she says.
And to those people who are finding it difficult to settle down long enough for prayer or to create a sacred space, Sr Rita offers another suggestion. ‘Some people can’t sit still and focus on a candle or focus on scripture readings,’ Sr Rita says. ‘Some people find it more useful to walk a labyrinth,’ she says.
There’s a rich tradition to labyrinth-walking as s spiritual exercise, with many labyrinth patterns constructed in the stone on floors of gothic cathedrals in Europe. ‘It’s not a maze,’ Sr Rita says. ‘A maze has blockages and moments when you don’t know which way to go. But a labyrinth has only one path – one way to the centre and one way out of the centre.’
‘There’s something that’s quite focusing about walking the labyrinth that just allows us to slow down and it’s in this time when we have such a unique opportunity to be and do that in our own lives every day,’ she says.
Whether it’s walking a labyrinth or focusing on a Scripture reading, for Sr Rita, the same goal lies at the end. ‘Centeredness is to contemplate the silence of God in our own hearts,’ she says.
‘You don’t have to think about anything, you don’t have to do anything in particular, you are just emptying yourself, simply through centering prayer,’
She recalls a story about a pioneer of the Christian Centeredness movement, Trappist monk Fr Thomas Keating. ‘A nun once went to Keating saying she couldn’t centre herself in prayer, or let go because every time she tried, thoughts crowded her mind. His simple advice to the nun was to find opportunities in those thoughts to return to God,’ Sr Rita says.
For people with families, Sr Rita suggests a way to be centred in prayer and connect with a sacred space is through art.
‘It’s a good time to talk with our children,’ she says. ‘Let’s draw, let’s talk about what our feelings are like and let God hear those feelings,’ says Sr Rita.
‘Maybe a child’s drawings can become a part of the sacred space in the family home as well.’
Illustrating how prayer and staying connected with God doesn’t have to be with words, Sr Rita shares one passage from Scripture she has found particularly helpful – and centering – during unsettling times. ‘Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know how to pray as we ought. But that very spirit intercedes within us with sighs too deep for words.’ – St Paul to the Romans 8:26