Jun 27-28, 2020
Rev. Simon Lee, Senior Pastor RCAC

Dear brothers and sisters of RCAC,

• Why do we need to be calm?

“Not Cancelled” is a book published recently, putting together 49 inspiring stories from across Canada of people who have acted kindly, calmly and courageously during the COVID-19 pandemic. Amidst news of people still fearful or not following the guidelines for reopening, and even news of racial discrimination against Asians, I really welcome the book as a breath of fresh air. Yes, we need to encourage each other to be kind, be calm in facing the challenge before us in order to stay safe, as Dr. Bonnie Henry has called us to do repeatedly over the past three months. We need to continue to be vigilant.

From personal experience, I know that I can stay calmer in adverse situations if I know the threat I am facing, and know how to deal with them with the resources I can gather. The more I understand the threats, the more I am prepared to deal with them, and the more I can remain calm. I go into a panic mode when I am caught off guard. As a boy growing up, I was a Boy Scout for many years, and I learned to “Be prepared” and engaged in activities and training to increase my survival skills and ability to respond to difficulties. The more I mastered those skills, the more I felt confident to face different unexpected challenges. So preparedness and availability of resources are keys to staying calm.

The pandemic have come upon us with such speed that we quickly lose our security, stability and equilibrium in life. The threat is greater because the things we are seeing and experiencing are unprecedented and there are so many unknowns. We become restless, nervous, anxious and sleepless, and prolonged anxiety can led to different anxiety disorders. Like SARS in Hong Kong 17 years ago, if anxiety is left unchecked, people can develop Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), that is, become anxious over everything, or even Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), with obsessive thought and compulsive behaviour, as for example, in uncontrolled and repetitive need to wash one’s hands. So the ability to be calm, cool and collected will help prevent us from such anxiety mental disorders.

• What are some psychological perspectives of being calm?

Moving away from the medical model of mental illness, if kindness is regarded as a Character Strength and Virtue (in Positive Psychology) under the category of “humanity,” then where does “being calm” fits in? We find that “calmness” would probably also fit well in the category of “humanity” as an expression of “love, kindness and social intelligence.” However if we see this as a quality required in adversities, then the category of “courage” (valor) which includes virtues like “bravery, perseverance, honesty and zest” will be appropriate as well. “Calmness” in adversities then is an expression of bravery to face adversities (in a gentle way if I may add), the ability to persevere when trials persist, maintaining one’s integrity and vitality, despite ongoing pressure. “Calmness” is a product of the human will backed by different sources of strength from existential meaning and purpose. From this perspective, calmness is part of personal growth in our development of humanity and courage.

From another perspective, if “kindness” can be measured in EQ or Emotional Quotient or Intelligence, then “being calm” can be seen as a crucial element measured in AQ or Adversity Quotient. The term “adversity quotient” is coined by Paul Stoltz in 1997 in his pioneering book Adversity Quotient: Turning Obstacles Into Opportunities. It is commonly known also as the science of resilience. When it comes to dealing with everyday challenges, or even catastrophic one, AQ has been recognized a more powerful coping mechanism than IQ. It is learning not to quit right from the start or half way when the going gets tough. We need to be vigilant and meet challenges with clarity and calmness.

• How does Jesus model for us staying calm in adversities?

We have already looked previously at how Jesus calmed the storm, and learned that in the same way Jesus can calm the storms in our lives. Another picture that comes to mind is the picture of Jesus when His enemies came to arrest him. The Gospel of John stated that Simon Peter impulsively cut off the ear of Malchus, the servant of Caiaphas the High Priest (Jn. 18:10). Luke adds that Jesus instead healed the wound (Lk. 22:51) and in Matthew, Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” (Mt. 26:52) What a contrast, we can see whereas Peter was “fearless and courageous” (or impulsive?) in his action, Jesus was calm and collected in the whole process, showing an inner peace even when He was betrayed by Judas his disciple with a kiss. How was Jesus able to stay calm in such atrocities?

It is instructive to note that the whole incidence happened after Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, during which the three closest disciples of Jesus including Peter could not stay awake. Jesus’s prayer battle in Gethsemane and His prayer life throughout His days on earth was a source of strength for Jesus, the reason for being able to stay calm when facing the most difficult challenge of His earthly life. Throughout the life of Jesus, he knew exactly why He was on earth, and he was resolute in His determination to go to cross. He was prepared for every step of the road to Calvary, and remained calm throughout the Passion Week in all his trials and tribulations. Jesus could stay calm because He knew that He was following and fulfilling the perfect will of God. So if we know we are walking in the path of God, we too can stay calm in adversities. Walking close to God prayerfully is key to staying calm and serene.

• What does the Bible teach us about staying calm in adversities?

In our favourite Psalm, Ps. 23, David says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” (1,2) The picture is one of calmness, peacefulness, tranquility and serenity. With Jesus as our Good Shepherd, we can be calm. Indeed this psalm has down through the ages brought peace to many Christians in times of need.

From the perspective of courage, in times like these, we are told to “be strong and very courageous,” just as Joshua was told when he faced the daunting task of leading the people of God into Promised Land. Joshua and Caleb had years ago in fact spoken out courageously after they and the rest of the 10 spies returned from their trip of spying out the land of Canaan, but unfortunately they were rejected by the people of the Exodus. Now after almost 40 years they were given the “impossible” task of leading a new generation of Israelites into the Promised Land, claiming it and dividing it among the tribes so as to settle in it. God’s word of encouragement to “be strong and courageous” came to Joshua with the passing of Moses. With these words, Joshua was also instructed to follow closely “the Torah,” with the promise of the blessings of God if he carefully observed this instruction (Joshua 1:1-9).

However I see people who are calm display more than raw courage and strong resilience when faced with danger and threat. There is an inner strength, quiet restfulness and a serene spirit that is the very opposite of impetuousness and toughness. Calmness is not just an outward behaviour when challenged, as it is a reflection of something deeper – the maturity of a person, the inner quality of his/her spirituality. It is heeding God’s calming voice that says “Be still and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10)

• How do we practice being calm in the New Normal?

In the model of Soul C.A.R.E.S that I have developed over the years, one of the core competences in pastoral care and counseling is providing spiritual formation and direction that helps a person comes to term with adversities/trauma by nurturing a serene spirit, with the attitude of full surrender to God and His sovereignty. When all fails, we find peace in God because humans are created “with a God-shaped vacuum” (Augustine) that only God can fill, and we will be restless until we find rest in Him. So ultimately, a Biblical way to look at the ability to be calm is to find rest and peace in God. This is achieved by spiritual disciplines through God’s Word and through close communion with God in our daily lives.

In the New Normal, a new anxiety can creep into our lives, the anxiety of wanting to go back to normal quickly, and the impatience with the slow and cautious reopening that we are going through. Be calm means to go in step with the Province and to move cautiously to make sure we do not trigger a second wave of the spread of the Coronavirus. Indeed, let us be kind and be calm.

Your servant in Christ

Rev. Simon Lee
Senior Pastor