April President’s Pen: We all have an invisible string that connects us, even when we’re far apart.

“Consult not your fears, but your hopes and dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.” The words of Pope John XXIII ring truer today than ever before.  We have hope; we have a future.  For now, however, we are betwixt and between.

 Liminal spaces are transitional or transformative spaces. They are the waiting areas between one point in time and space and the next. Often, when we are in liminal spaces, we have the feeling of being on the verge of something.  The word liminal comes from the Latin word ‘limen’, meaning threshold – any point or place of entering or beginning. A liminal space is the time between the ‘what was’ and the ‘next.’ It is a place of transition – a place of waiting and not knowing.  We are somewhere between the familiar and unknown. This has the potential to be a good space where genuine newness can begin.  Even without COVID, high schools are liminal spaces.  But with it, this pandemic is disrupting our sense of the familiar.

Regardless, life’s most turbulent transitions are where the best and most enduring transformations to our lives occur. Immense growth happens here in the space between – we just need to wait and listen.

St. Ignatius promotes a form of prayer and contemplation using our imagination. Throughout the Spiritual Exercises, we accompany Jesus by imagining scenes from Gospel stories, being present in the events of Jesus’ life by immersing one’s self in the events – sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and feelings… St. Ignatius asks us to lose ourselves in His story.  The Gospel scenes are not stagnant, they are invitations for us to find direct and meaningful connections to Jesus’ past life in our own present lives, allowing God to communicate with each of us in a personal, evocative way.

So what the heck does that mean right now, as we shelter-in-place, isolated from one another, sacrificing our physical connections for the greater good?   In the same way that St. Ignatius invites us to insert our consciousness into scenes from the Gospels, this liminal time of social distancing asks us to imagine the realities of others – to accompany them by imagining their daily struggles – to walk a mile in their shoes.  This is what it means to be “a person for others” in their life journeys.

What is e-learning really like for our students and faculty? I invite you to imagine their realities.

Consider that some faculty are both teachers and parents – many juggling demands of both home and work responsibilities.  Some students are living in homes with no Wi-Fi access or limited access at best. Several of our families have four or more children and extended family members living with them.  Even with “normal” Wi-Fi, what reception do you have with everyone on a cell phone together?  Thankfully, CRSM went 1:1 with chrome books so we know our students have a device but we have no assurances about their accessibility.

In the first two weeks of the shut-down, we know that at least 25% of our parents lost their jobs.  Service industry positions and cash-only jobs were the first to go in the COVID belt-tightening.  Many of our Juniors and Seniors are now working full time at grocery stores, pharmacies, other “essential” jobs to support their families.

Still more are taking care of siblings while parents work to support them.  Further, not everyone has a bedroom or place of privacy to do their schoolwork.  What do you do if there isn’t a quiet space where you can focus?

A recent quote from an article about school counseling is sobering, “Between closed schools, social isolation, food scarcity and parental unemployment, the coronavirus pandemic has so destabilized kids’ support systems that the result, counselors say, is genuinely traumatic.”

“School is their safe place. They look forward to coming. They don’t want to leave when the day is over. And to take that away from them, I do worry about the traumatic experience that will cause for many of our students… School is a space where students can feel comfortable sharing… but now that space is no longer private and that might keep students from really opening up about things like basic stress or even abuse.”

Here are just a few reflections shared by our faculty and students on the front lines of this strange purgatory…

“Oh, I miss you all, first and foremost. I didn’t realize how much I depended on the daily routine and interaction with students and fellow teachers until recently. I miss being more of a daily part of your lives and you being part of mine… Everyone stay happy, stay positive, and please stay safe.”

“It’s crazy to think that my senior year is ending this way, but one thing that I have really learned throughout not being at school is that you have to roll with the punches. We can only control what we are capable of doing and we have to be okay with that. I was really pleased to see that my class was all accepted into at least one 4-year institution! It’s an amazing accomplishment that couldn’t have been done without the help of our amazing teachers and staff members that push us to do the work day-in-and-day-out. <3… Whatever comes next, we have to roll with it, and know that in the end, everything happens for a reason, we just have to find the silver lining :)”

“E-learning has been fantastic for me and it truly has showed me skills that I never knew I had. Those are skills of being a self-learner, time management, and curiosity. Last through this time I have been able to read my Bible so much more than ever. It has been a time to where I can grow more and more in my faith with God. I can truly say this time has been amazing for me.”

“These last few weeks have honestly been tough on me. My anxiety has been through the roof worrying about this virus. I’m happy I have all my family and friends to help me calm down and feel safe. I honestly miss going to school and going to my job. I miss seeing all my friends as well. Since the quarantine I’ve spent my time working on my writing and my art to help keep me distracted. I also spend a lot of time with my brothers watching movies and anime…

“E-Learning is very new to me, but I know I’ll eventually get used to it. It was difficult at first but I’m glad I have good teachers to help me when I’m confused. I hope we return to school and work as soon as possible. And I hope you all stay safe :)!”

It’s about how we all have an invisible string that connects us, even when we’re far apart. God is speaking to us through our prayer, imagination and interactions with others.  St. Ignatius called it, “Finding God in all things.”  We are in an uncomfortable time, a vulnerable place, a place of weakness and humility…that leaves the door open for God to enter our lives and speak to us.  Intimately, candidly, and with a message we are almost ready to comprehend. A message of hope in the unseen.

The Franciscan friar, Richard Rohr writes, “Like Jonah in the belly of the sea monster, we are led where we do not want to go—not once, but many times in our lives. Dwelling in unsettling liminal space, whether we are pushed or we jump, we are led to draw on resources and possibilities we may not have tapped before. In the unknown space between here and there, younger and older, past and future, life happens. And, if we attend, we can feel the Holy Spirit moving with us in a way that we may not be aware of in more settled times. In liminal time and space, we can learn to let reality—even in its darkness—be our teacher, rather than living in the illusion that we are creating it on our own. We can enter into the liminal paradox: a disturbing time and space that not only breaks us down, but also offers us the choice to live in it with fierce aliveness, freedom, sacredness, companionship, and awareness of Presence.”

Let’s make one another’s separate realities our combined reality. Let’s embrace this period of liminal space and time for what it is, a gift – a time to reflect on what is elemental in our relationships and to focus on the gifts that we are, and can be, to one another.

“Consult not your fears, but your hopes and dreams.”  We have hope; we have a future… and it is together.  May God bless you during this transitional and transformational time.