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Community and Gratitude in the Time of Coronavirus

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Published on May 15, 2020

Key Takeaways

“This COVID situation is going to change things in traditional, institutional, religious life forever. There probably will be a combination of virtual and physical community when things reopen,” says Rabbi Jill Zimmerman.

Joined by Pastor Rodrick Echols and Patient Power Co-Founder Esther Schorr, the panel discusses how community can mean many different things and why gratitude is so important.

This segment ends with the two spiritual leaders sharing their favorite scripture passage that brings them comfort during this time.

[Due to extreme load on our website and Zoom platform, viewers may experience a time delay between the audio and video of the interview - please note the transcript can be read below.]

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Transcript | Community and Gratitude in the Time of Coronavirus

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Recorded on May 7, 2020

Esther Schorr:
Hello, everybody. This is Esther Schorr with Patient Power and welcome to what I think is going to be somewhat of a groundbreaking topic for us. We're going to be talking about spirituality and gratitude and community in the context of what is going on right now with the coronavirus pandemic.
 
We spoke before this program about what kinds of community are there, and we started to talk about there are virtual communities, there are church and synagogue communities, there are the communities that Patient Power has. Can you talk a little bit about what is it about those communities that are similar? Why are people gravitating to those? What does community mean?
 
Rabbi Jill Zimmerman:
I think that community is really changing right now. I have been teaching online for, I mean my community has been virtual for, I don't know, four or five years now? People would say "I love what you teach," et cetera," but I don't want to do it online," and now that everything has come online, people have been less afraid to be connected virtually, and so many more people are comfortable with being online. Pastor Rod, he and I have talked about this a lot, that both of us have the feeling that this situation, this COVID situation is going to change things in traditional, institutional, religious life forever. There probably will be a combination, when things reopen, there'll be a combination of virtual and physical community.

Esther Schorr:
Anything else about that Pastor Rod you want to add?
 
Pastor Rodrick Echols:
From my perspective, I'll say this. I think that serving in a Christian community where for tradition's sake, we have been able to maintain and do incredible work, incredible work that we would never change, we would never scuttle. However, in 2020 and in the years to come, institutions like mine are absolutely being invited to reimagine and rethink how we create that same essence of community. It's not that we're redefining community, it's that we're understanding that it's going to look different, it's going to configure differently, it's going to mold and weave and bob and float in new ways, and that's okay. I invite that. I'm almost willing to say that if we don't do that, we miss an opportunity to frankly meet people where they are.
 
Esther Schorr:
That's exactly right. I know just from my own personal experience that I have not been a synagogue goer, whatever that means. There are many people who find their community in a church or in a synagogue, but my community and my sense of strength has always come from much more informal family groups who celebrate some traditions together or friends groups, and that creates it. I think what I'm hearing is that this pandemic and what immediately feels like an isolating situation is an opportunity to explore for each of us other ways of feeling community and feeling connected. There is another question that I want to talk to you guys about. Talk to us a little bit about the benefit of showing gratitude. Where does that come in?
 
Pastor Rodrick Echols:
Whoa.
 
Rabbi Jill Zimmerman:
Whoa.
 
Pastor Rodrick Echols:

I'm going to encourage Rabbi to start because if I start, I'm going to do this for hours. So, Rabbi, help us here.
 
Esther Schorr:
We have about 10 minutes, so let's see if we...
 
Rabbi Jill Zimmerman:
…I was going to say the exact same thing, that you should go first, because I can talk about this for hours. Let me just say that I think that gratitude is, I'm going to be so bold and say, “I think it's the most important spiritual practice.”
 
Esther Schorr:

Why?
 
Rabbi Jill Zimmerman:
The reason why is because we view—let me put it this way. In the morning blessings in Judaism, in traditional, you wake up in the morning and the very first thing you're supposed to say is, the Hebrew is, and for women, “Modeh Ani,” meaning "Grateful am I." It is the first thing that we're supposed to say. That's how important it is. It means that when you begin your day, in what you have, even if it is the tiniest bit of "I'm alive," okay? That it is important to frame that.
 
Esther Schorr:

Pastor Rod, thoughts about gratitude?
 
Pastor Rodrick Echols:
I completely concur. Whether I'm talking about Christian resurrection, how it's fully embodied in a sense of being thankful, that is that death is temporary, it's not something that is ever permanent, just being grateful for that and starting there is that I can never die, I can never be killed, wow. Gratitude. And then in addition to that, one of my favorite writers, Ram Dass, he says that the whole point of all this work that we're doing is that we're not so focused on ourselves, but we're actually walking each other home. The idea of walking each other home, that just screams gratitude. Every moment that we live, every idea that the moment, that the whole point of breathing is for another, for all creation, because if I'm serving creation, I'm serving myself. Walking each other home. Gratitude. Wow. I am so bought into this notion of gratitude being at the very top of the list, and then I put compassion very close to that, right under it.
 
Esther Schorr:
Compassion. They're so closely tied to each other because I know during this time that we're all going through, some people are starting from the position of that really, what they feel that can have gratitude for is simply waking up in the morning and being relatively healthy, being able to do, and then there's another level I think of gratitude is if you have the capability to help others. That's another way to kind of, I know for me, to get over my fear of what's next is to concentrate my efforts and channel whatever fear I have into being grateful for what I have and being able to help other people. It kind of puts the fear into a box, it puts it away in a sense.
 
Pastor Rodrick Echols:
It puts it in perspective.
 
Esther Schorr:
Go ahead.
 
Rabbi Jill Zimmerman:
The other thing about gratitude is that when we have these really strong emotions like fear or scarcity, that tends to fill up all the space, right? It's only fear. It's always going to be this way, right? What gratitude does is that it says yes and—I just see this butterfly flying by. How awesome is that? It expands what is our sight to include more and more and more rather than the immediate fear or concern. We're like opening our eyes.
 
Esther Schorr:
We actually could continue this conversation in so many directions, and I wish we had five hours to do it, but what I want to do is to kind of close this chapter. I know that each of you, we spoke about this earlier, that you have a scripture passage or a life experience, but I think it's a scripture passage that may bring comfort. It brings comfort to you or you feel it might bring comfort to people who are listening. Pastor Echols, would you share what you have first and then we'll have Rabbi Jill?
 
Pastor Rodrick Echols:

I'd be honored, and thank you again for this incredible invitation. I'm a Star Wars fan, so chapter one was not all that bad, this was great. Perhaps there'll be others to come. Let me say, as I thought about this, I'm taken by the incredible wisdom and literature in the Hebrew bible. Rabbi, I hope I'm not taking yours because I'm going to…
 
Rabbi Jill Zimmerman:

…you're not. I promise you.
 
Pastor Rodrick Echols:
Psalm 46. That incredible verse that says, "Be still and know that I am God." However, the people listening define that, you can take that word God and insert whatever term or descriptive you want. It can be spirit, it can be mother, it can be father, it can be guide, universe, whatever word you want to use. But the point is that that simple praise, "Be still and know," that has been a very, very important meditation for me in these recent days. Sometimes I'll say it forwards, and then I'll repeat it backwards, and then I'll do it forwards and backwards, forwards, backwards, and I find that as I continue to repeat the process of forwards and back, I'm transported to a place of serenity, a place of acceptance, because I feel I'm in a circular pattern.
 
Esther Schorr:
It's also forcing you to listen. It's forcing you to listen and focus.
 
Pastor Rodrick Echols:
It's a way for me to find myself and give myself grace and feel safe and feel included in this crazy unfolding all around me, and to know that all will be well.
 
Esther Schorr:

Thank you. Rabbi Jill?
 
Rabbi Jill Zimmerman:
The passage that I thought about is actually by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. It's not actually from the Hebrew bible, but everything is connected. There's a famous thing that he says which is, “The whole world is a narrow bridge, and the most important thing is to not make ourselves more afraid than we already are.” It's often mistranslated, but the true translation is like recognizing that the world is. We walk this narrow bridge every day, and it's important, we can't say "Don't be afraid" because of course, fear is human and natural, and so it says to be afraid but still, to not make yourself more afraid. Not to let your thoughts, it was kind of like what I was talking before about what if I'm in a wheelchair, right? It's like not to make it more by our own thoughts and the way that we can catastrophize.
 
Esther Schorr:
Is that a word, catastrophize?
 
Rabbi Jill Zimmerman:
Did I make that up? I've used that, heard other people. Is it?
 
Esther Schorr:
I don't know. We'll have to check afterwards, but it definitely summarizes things.
 
Pastor Rodrick Echols:
I'm going to use it in a sermon. That was great.
 
Esther Schorr:
That's a great word. I guess to summarize, what I've heard here is that we're all wandering right now. All of us, in whatever level of challenge we already have are now further challenged by this global thing that we don't have control over, and information about how globally it will be managed is coming slowly and we don't control that either. So if I heard right, ways for us individually to cope would be to stop, to listen to each other, to engage in any way we can to hear other people, create community in whatever that means to us. Whether it's gathering virtually, connecting with somebody online, joining a virtual knitting group, whatever it is, and to look outside ourselves in terms of compassion and so that we're not focused, as you said, Rabbi Jill, on the what if, the worst-case scenario and how it's only going to impact me, but how do we focus on the better things that can come out of this rather than on the negative possibilities. Is that a pretty good summary?
 
Rabbi Jill Zimmerman:
I guess I would just also add that I am trying to think about this time as an inner journey and how can I stay open and curious to what's going on every day. I just know I am exhausted by 3:00 PM every day. I have got to take a nap, and I know that like some weeks, I am Zoomed out, and so I'll go off Zoom. I haven't really gone off Zoom but I'll step back a little bit, and that's okay because then, two days later, I need that connection again, and so like I'm learning a different rhythm.
 
Esther Schorr:

That's being kind to yourself.
 
Rabbi Jill Zimmerman:
By listening. Like Pastor Rod is saying, just listening and honoring that and being okay with it changing from day to day.
 
Esther Schorr:
Thank you both for what has definitely been an inspiring conversation, which I'm guessing if we didn't have to wrap up now, we could go on for a few more hours or a few more days, so I'm hoping that we can do this again, and maybe extended into a time when we're not all focused on trying to cope. I mean we cope every day, this is a particularly coping time, so I want to say thank you to Rabbi Jill Zimmerman who founded Path with Heart, which I didn't get to say originally. She has an online following and she is devoted as we can tell to helping people discover mindfulness through a spiritual lens, and obviously, her deep interest is bringing people closer to spiritual practices that make daily life better and better. Rabbi Jill, thank you. You are welcome to say goodbye, and Pastor Echols, thank you for all that you have done to join us in this conversation and share your experiences and perspective, and I'm looking forward to speaking with you again very, very soon.
 
Pastor Rodrick Echols:

Likewise. Thank you.
 
Esther Schorr:
Thanks a lot. To all of you who are listening, I hope that this has been helpful and that it has fed your spirit and helped you to think about how you as an individual and then as a collective can get through this trying time by listening, by stopping, by having some gratitude for what is good in life, and hopefully we'll talk again soon. This is Esther Schorr from Patient Power, and remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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