Assurance: A Complex Spiritual Experience

We look for the numbers, the tally of our success. How many new cases of COVID-19? The number of people who are in intensive care, who has recovered and, sadly, those who have died. Show us the graph. Does it curve up (bad), straight (good) or down (best)?

The almost daily briefings of Dr. Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer for British Columbia, rank as must-see viewing in the province as she shares the data with clarity, competence and compassion. 

The dance between the numbers and her presence reassures us that even though we are isolated, we are not alone. 

“We are in this together.” The message is carried on the back of T-shirts worn by grocery store workers and in the script of newsreaders.

Dr. Henry reassures us that the choices, inconveniences and sacrifices made so far save lives. Our discomfort and sacrifices are worthwhile; they make a difference.

The briefings end with the soft moral imperative: “This is our time to be kind, to be calm and to be safe.” 

The numbers and the character of the one presenting reassures. 

Not all assurances are subject to warranty.

“Doctor, please tell me that the malignant cells will never return.”

“Tell me that what I’m doing to care for my brother, who is on the autism spectrum and suffers from acute OCD, is enough.”

I remember when my son was less than a decade into his struggle with drug addiction and had barely begun the cycle in and out of prison, someone, with the best of intentions, said: ‘Don’t worry. He will be fine. All you have to do is love him.”

Empty assurance.

Some times in life, we enter a spiritual realm where assurance and hope do not depend upon numbers or outcomes.

I cannot speak for others, but, for me, certain impressions come to my heart during such times. (And usually, around 4 am, after much thrashing about.)

Somehow, in the dark pool of worry and anxiety in which I can submerge, I sense that I am not alone. The Presence does not come with snake oil or magic, merely a sense of Presence.

The other distinct, although related, sense is that beneath all of this lies something that can bear the weight of whatever stew of grief, anxiety, worry, fear, and anger I carry. Underneath is something solid.

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