March 31, 2020

UCalgary chaplains on finding joy and peace in isolation

Meaningful connection in the time of coronavirus
Spirituality online
Spirituality online

A priest, a rabbi and a monk walk into a — wait a minute: the bar’s closed. Indeed, it is, as are the classrooms, fitness centre, coffee shops and, it seems, all of our most meaningful places on campus. Nevertheless, there are still deep pockets of (virtual) connection available at UCalgary during this collectively challenging time. The Faith and Spirituality Centre may or may not be your usual cup of tea, but five campus chaplains prove there are many paths to higher love in the time of coronavirus.

Danielle Braitman, Jewish (Hillel) representative 

“It’s a high-stress time for everybody. There’s an old Yiddish proverb we can stick to quite firmly in times like this: We’re going to ‘hope for the best and plan for the worst.’ A lot of students are living at home, but they’re missing their usual social connections in an effort to stay physically distant from everyone else. I’m setting up Netflix-watching parties for students and the community. We’re watching movies chosen by students, with Jewish content to fit with our programming, and then we’ll discuss them together online. Our first pick is The Awakening of Motti Wolkenbruch. My biggest focus is connecting — just letting students know they’re not alone."

We will get through this and come out stronger on the other side because, well, we have to — there’s no other option. 

Paul Verhoef, Christian (Christian Reformed) chaplain 

“I’ve found that, in some ways, this time has offered a helpful change of structure and pace for many people. I normally meet with a small group of students in person on Fridays. We share a contemplative practice connected to, though not always rooted deeply in, Christianity. This week, we met via Zoom and simply shared how it’s going with one another. There’s some stress, of course. Students wonder about the loss of a graduation ceremony, the loss of a final face-to-face goodbye with friends before everyone scatters. And they recognize that the economy is in trouble. But some students are also experiencing the goodness of this isolating time. Staying home can be a gift in that it allows learning at their own pace; some are finding joy in using technology in a new way — FaceTime can provide deep connection with friends. Together, we talked about this disruption in the normal as a moment to open the imagination and shape new possibilities." 

We wondered if we might hold more space after this moment, provide more flexibility in how things get done, and renew our understanding of what we value.  

Sandra Brask, Bahá’i representative 

“I saw a photo of a shipment of medical supplies heading from China to Italy. There was a note on the crate with a picture of a Chinese flag in one corner and an Italian flag in the other, and it read: “We are waves of the same sea, leaves of the same tree, flowers of the same garden.” That’s a quote from Baha’i scripture and the essence of Baha’i teachings. It’s about universal love, selfless service, the world as one country. These kinds of actions — helping others — this is what sustains my faith and encourages me to wipe away my tears and go forward with confidence and courage."

I once read that when Fred Rogers was a boy, and saw scary things in the news, his mother would tell him to look for the helpers, that he’d always find people who are helping. I love that. Let us be the helpers. This is what will bring true joy and calm. 

Imam Fayaz Tilly, Muslim (Sunni) chaplain 

“I found a poem that says we can think of this not as a time of self-isolation, but of self-discovery. That resonated with me. This is an opportunity to look at our priorities again. It’s a chance to congregate in our hearts, support one another and pray for one another. I was amazed to connect online with nearly 900 people at my last Friday prayer session — far more than could come in person normally. I’ve found joy in being able to do all five daily prayers with my family because we’re at home together. And, along with my wife, Noureen (Noureen Tilly is also a UCalgary chaplain), we’re seeing the laughing, crying faces of family and friends all over the world on video chat — loved ones we haven’t seen in years. We feel compelled, as a lot of people do, to go beyond the usual quick check-in to more intimate waters."

The world isn’t going to be the same after this, and I think it might move us toward deeper, more genuine care. 

Ken Madden, Buddhist (unaffiliated) chaplain 

“As human beings we’re not islands unto ourselves — even when we’re self-isolating. Buddhist teachings include an element of the ‘sangha,’ which is community. We need that. My other job is in IT, so I’ve been able to pivot quickly in terms of getting online meditation sessions going for our community. It’s been great: lots of additional students and others joining in who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to attend in person regularly. The perspective I teach from is that we don’t come to meditation to be better Buddhists; we come to get tools to let our better lives arise. At this time, when maybe we’re starting to worry, we can stay with our breath, stay in the present moment, follow our breath for a while, and let the past and the future float by."

In person we’d drink tea after meditation, but online we can just chat or drop off whenever we like. This is a full-love, no-pressure, no-judgment zone. 

Connect with online prayer sessions, meditation and other upcoming events; you’ll also find individual contact information for each of these chaplains and others. 

Photo at the top of this article by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash.

UCalgary resources on COVID-19

For the most up-to-date information about the University of Calgary's response to the spread of COVID-19, visit the UCalgary COVID-19 Response website.

For resources to support students, faculty, staff, alumni, and all our communities during this unprecedented time, visit the UCalgary COVID-19 Community Support website.