UNIVERSITY OF SAN DIEGO / Summer 2009
[silver lining]
Finding Comfort
For some, economic crisis prompts spiritual reawakening
by Liz Harman
PHOTO BY MICHAEL LOVETTE-COLYER

Children from the orphanage Hogar Infantil were the focus of a recent trip to Tijuana. USD students cleared weeds from a playground and interacted with the children, including taking time out for lunch and an Easter egg hunt.

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lummeting stock prices and shrinking 401(k) accounts. Rising layoffs and home foreclosures. These days, just keeping up with news about the economy can make people feel worried and stressed. But USD spiritual leaders say faith can be a great comfort during troubled times and that there may even be some hidden gifts in them as well. “A healthy spirituality and a robust faith life should inculcate in us a trust, even in dark moments,” says University Ministry Director Michael Lovette-Colyer. In recent months, he’s met with students whose families are facing a job loss or other financial difficulties. “It’s about trusting — even when we don’t know what’s on the other side.”

But tough times can also challenge one’s faith and lead to hard questions like, “Where is God in all of this?”

Sister Barbara Quinn, RSCJ and director of the Center for Christian Spirituality, recently gave a speech at St. Mary’s College in Indiana titled, “The Hidden Face of Hope.” She says crises are an opportunity to reexamine one’s faith and come to a “deeper understanding of what life and God are all about.”

Quinn senses “a sobriety and a heaviness” among people these days as they reflect on their economic circumstances.

But while some are worried and anxious, others keep a sense of perspective. While they may have lost money or property, they understand that “it’s not a life that was taken from us.”

If there is a silver lining, it’s that during times of prosperity, people often lose sight of the importance of community and trust in God and one’s fellow man, says Lovette-Colyer. He sees a “cultural myth” that has been built up in recent years: “I can support myself and my family, and I don’t need any help from anybody else.” The last few months have challenged that notion in a profound way.

As people confront situations such as job loss and the accompanying fear and shame that can be part of their struggle, he advises them not to be afraid to lean on others. “Let them lift us up when we can’t do it ourselves.”

Another opportunity is a renewed appreciation for simple living: turning away from materialism toward an appreciation of life’s other gifts, such as faith, family, friends and the beauty of nature. Quinn says that economic challenges can be “an invitation to a different way of looking at life that is paradoxically a gift.”

Cultivating a sense of gratitude for one’s blessings and a willingness to help others can also help people get through difficult moments. It’s something that Lovette-Colyer says he’s continued to see in the USD community even as the recession has worsened.

For example, he says he might not have been surprised to see less interest in University Ministry’s “Spring Break Experience” to travel to Tijuana and engage in service for the less fortunate, especially since students get no academic credit for it and have to pay to participate. “But the demand was stronger than ever,” with 22 students signing up for the experience, he says. During the trip, students did a lot of thinking and talking about the declining economy and its even more severe impact on developing countries like Mexico.

And given the economic climate, their reflections had even deeper resonance than usual: “They were very much open to thinking about the problems we are facing in a holistic way, not in a self-interested way.”