Psychologist Sister Lynn M. Levo has been busy. Of late, much of her work has focused on helping her Albany community and her clients find hope in these uniquely challenging times. She shares her insights below.
My understanding of hope is based on theological and psychological understandings. Connecting the two is exciting and helpful. I have been exploring hope and changes in religious life, and most recently in relationship to COVID-19, our political reality and the many losses we are facing today. It is clear that hope matters now and that it begins with naming reality honestly, followed by a call to action. We will not be hopeful unless we name what it is like for ourselves and for those around us. It is a call to transformation, to creating a different world going forward.
Hope requires us to acknowledge the tremendous suffering of COVID, the unnecessary loss of life, the loss of connection with people we care about and the loss of touch. Many are touch-deprived, a basic need for us as humans. Because of the need for safety, rituals around death and saying goodbye and the celebrations of jubilees, birthdays and daily Mass have not been possible. We can’t underestimate the impact of the loss of ritual, of our inability to share our daily life and our very personal experiences of suffering and loss.
Sometimes I hear people say, “I want to win the lottery!” What is this really about? Hearing this, I think of the work on hope by theologian and author Jurgen Moltmann. He says hope is awakening in us a thirst and a hunger for the fullness of life. When we are dissatisfied with who we are, we are moved to create a future in which more life will enter the life we actually have. For Moltmann, hope is divinely inspired dissatisfaction.
For our congregation, our dissatisfaction is reflected in our desire to right relationships by acknowledging the crises of the earth and global warming, our recognition of and our complicity in
systems of oppression, and our desire to walk with women and others who desire to speak their truth. This is our shared impulse for the fullness of life and our dissatisfaction with what we see. Yes, divinely inspired dissatisfaction.
What kind of choices will lead to hopefulness?
Psychology points us to understanding and embracing these fundamental human longings:
We have choices–personal and communal.
Each day we can choose what is personally fulfilling and how we can be of service to others — elements critical to purpose. Even in the midst of COVID, we have choices. Saying “There’s nothing I can do here” enables hopelessness. Realizing the choices we do have helps us live fully and gratefully in the present. Today’s choice may simply mean putting on a mask.
Even though we are separated because of COVID, knowing that we are loved, remembering the presence of a loved one, a mentor, a friend and a caring community help foster a sense of connection and trust and openness that are critical to being human. People who are isolated find it difficult to hope.
A personal understanding of how to care for oneself and live a balanced life even in the midst of COVID is fundamental to psychology’s focus on resilience. Being resilient is about caring for oneself physically, emotionally, relationally and psychologically. During this anxious time for many, knowing how to soothe and relax are critical elements of self-care and resilience.
Those of us with a spiritual life, the gift of faith, are fortunate to have a sense of connection to something greater than ourselves. Leaning into our belief in and connection with a loving and faithful God helps. We are learning that our prayer needs to include our feelings. Although we may pray the Psalms, many of which are laments, God longs to hear what it is like for me/for us, which means talking to God about what I/we feel, trusting that God will hear us and is caring for us. These choices likely will require a shift in perspective, being open to what is and living in the present. It includes doing our own inner work and reaching out to others.
This article, co-written with Ann L. Thompson, appeared in the 2021 issue of Carondelet Magazine.