Here at St. Anthony’s, we are entering into our eighth day of social distancing.
As of 8:00 this morning, the rest of the state has officially joined us in “sheltering in place.” Governor Evers’ office released the details of the “Safer at Home” order this morning, an order that prohibits nonessential excursions. The concept of nonessential excursions can most easily be understood by defining its opposite: the concept of essential excursions.
Essential excursions are those which are necessary to obtain any of the following: healthcare or veterinary care (pets are part of the family, too!), medicine, food, or supplies needed to care for your home or to work from home. Essential excursions also include those outings that are necessary to care for a relative who lives in another household, an elderly friend, or anyone who is unable to venture out on his or her own essential excursions.
Everything else falls into the category of nonessential excursions. Everything else, that is, with one vital exception. Namely, outdoor exercise – provided that it is prudently practiced in a manner which separates all persons present by at least six feet – is encouraged. Indeed, walking, hiking, jogging, and biking are so strongly encouraged that entry fees at state parks and trails have been waived throughout the duration of the “Safer at Home” order.
The conditions of Wisconsin’s “Safer at Home” order would seem neither cumbersome nor surprising to the early occupants of our house.
These friars were accustomed to cutting out the “non-essentials” so that they could make more room in their minds and hearts and souls for essentials such as quiet contemplation and the fruits derived from it: self-knowledge, joy, and more steadfast relationships with God, self, others, and all of Creation. These friars were comfortable in the cloister of our beloved hallways, finding peace and a sense of rightness within the stillness and beauty of a house that is simultaneously grand and simple in its elegance. But these friars were also comfortable in the cloister of Creation, finding health, enjoyment, and a different kind of contemplation among the trees and the gardens, along the river, beneath the sun, clouds, and sky. Indeed, outdoor recreation was so important to the friars that a half hour of outdoor recreation was, according to our friend Fr. Otto Bucher, OFM Cap, mandated as part of the daily routine of the house unless the weather dipped down to 30 below 0 degrees Fahrenheit!
And so the “Safer at Home” order would surely seem familiar to the friars of St. Anthony’s. This time of slowing down, protecting the most vulnerable among us, and preventing the potential overload of our healthcare system invites us into the cloister of home and the cloister of Creation. It invites us to let go of the non-essentials, reveling in the (re)discovery of those essentials that may have gotten pushed to the wayside over the years: conversations with family and friends (perhaps via telephone, internet, or ham radio!); quiet contemplation; exercise; mindful consumption; and a searching within to (re) discover and (re) connect with all the facets of what it means to be you.
Be safe in the cloister of home; be safe in the cloister of Creation, and be joyful in the lovely (re)discoveries that your heart and mind and soul uncover as the non-essentials make way for the essential.
And pray that Brother Sun decides to come for a visit again soon – we’ve missed his cheerful presence for the past few days and would all surely be much heartened by it on our next excursion out into the cloister of Creation!