by Emily Huff
We have been living in a global pandemic for over two years now, as Friday, March 11th marked two years since the World Health Organization officially declared the Covid-19 pandemic. On top of that, we see troubling news each day in Ukraine, and it is hard to wrap our minds around what is happening around us as it seems that the world is on fire and there is no safe place.
An article from Education Week that I read in January was titled, “Stress, Hypervigilance, and Decision Fatigue: Teaching During Omicron,” and many of us can relate to the way the article describes how teachers (and all of us for that matter) can’t seem to turn our brains off because our nervous systems have been in firing constantly on high alert in overdrive. “Teachers are in hypervigilance mode. We have been for the past two years. Teaching already had problems with attrition before the pandemic. And now? Those problems are all magnified, and we’ve added hypervigilance, times 10.”
I latched onto this word “hypervigilance” in the article as it resonated with me in thinking about how we have all been charting the unknown and navigating the last two years. In listening to the On Being podcast recently by Krista Tippet, I heard her interview Cheri Maples who was a police officer trained in mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh who talked about how this intersected in her line of work: “This hypervigilance–looking around you all the time, wondering where that next problem is coming from, has pushed us off the charts and out of balance. And we’ve got to come back down and find some ways to take care of ourselves because otherwise, the stress just keeps on accumulating and we can start shutting down without realizing it. So, we need tools to keep our heart open and soft.”
While this hypervigilance has become the way of the world, I believe that we must find tools to keep our hearts open and soft. In order to do this, we are called to a different kind of vigilance as followers of Jesus as the words “keep watch” are given as invitations throughout Scripture.
- “Keep watch because you do not know the day or the hour.” Matthew 25:13 (NIV)
- “God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next.” Romans 15:4, The Message
- “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” Matthew 6:34, The Message
In this season of Lent, some people take on practices rather than giving things up as a way to return to God with all of their hearts. The practice of the examen is one that I am trying to do at the end of each day as a way to keep watch in a radically different way than the hypervigilance that I have been living into the last two years. It’s a way to keep my heart open and soft, and it’s really quite simple:
1. Become aware of God’s presence.
2. Review the day with gratitude.
3. Pay attention to your emotions.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
5. Look toward tomorrow.
I’ve chosen to keep a gratitude journal as a part of this practice, and I’ve begun to see it a bit like a “God hunt” through my day as I ask God where He is in the midst of my teaching, in the midst of my family, and in the midst of the ordinary tasks that make up my days.
At the end of the day, it’s a way to shift my attention and focus. And as I am trying to keep watch in different ways, I am finding comfort knowing that I can also cry out to God to keep watch over us.
- The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. Psalm 121:8 (NIV)
- “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Genesis 28:15 (NIV)
This Compline prayer from the Book of Common Prayer has also been an anchor to lead me away from the hypervigilance and to open my hands to pray for God to hold the weight of this world.
I invite you to join me in these practices of keeping watch in this season as we trust that the Lord is keeping watch over us all.
featured image provided by author, from Keep Watch With Me: An Advent Reader for Peacemakers
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