SAUK RAPIDS, MINN. – The Poor Clare Sisters know all about sheltering in place.
They've been doing it most of their lives.
Sixteen Catholic nuns reside at Saint Clare's Monastery in this central Minnesota city, living lives of service to God through prayer. To the usual vows of poverty, obedience and chastity, they've added one more: enclosure.
From their hilltop sanctuary, they send out prayers in answer to the thousands of requests that come in by phone, by letter or confided through a screen in the doorway of their monastery.
But they never leave their cloister, except for infrequent medical checkups.
As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across Minnesota and much of the globe, several sisters graciously consented to meet and offer their thoughts on how the rest of us can cope with our social isolation during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
"We are very happy and content, and feel very blessed to be in this situation. The Lord is very close to us," said Mother Marie Immaculata, the abbess of the monastery, who's lived here for 39 years.
As for the rest of us, she said, "You have quite a challenge out there. You have the opportunity to be in the world and live your lives as good people.
"It's not hopeless."
Here are some of the nuns' thoughts on keeping spiritually and emotionally healthy during a time of solitude.
Stick to a program. "It is very helpful to have a schedule to live by," said Mother Immaculata. The Poor Clare Sisters have regular times set aside daily for communal prayers, individual prayers, chapel, meals and relaxation.
Be helpful. "Do something for someone else," said Sister Mary Matthew, who's lived in the monastery for 36 years. "Write a letter. Check on someone. Reach out to the elderly. Anyone can do that."
Enjoy yourself. "Play some table games. Make some popcorn," said Mother Mary Barbara, the vicaress and a 27-year resident. The nuns gather every day for an hour to talk and relax. They might knit, crochet or make rosaries. Occasionally, they also enjoy pinochle, canasta, jigsaw puzzles and board games. Rack-O is a favorite.
Make a joyful noise. "The Sound of Music" and "The Singing Nun," it appears, are true to life. "We do a lot of singing in our services," said Sister Mary Matthew. "I encourage people to sing and listen to music. Those are the things that lift our hearts to God."
Live in the moment. "Stop and smell the roses. Watch the grass grow. Focus on the goodness of God," said Mother Immaculata.
The nuns have no radio, TV or internet. They do read St. Cloud or Twin Cities newspapers dropped off for them by local residents, so they have knowledge of the COVID-19 pandemic. It's all part of God's plan, they say, and they've seen good come from it.
"We had a letter from a grandma," said Mother Mary Barbara. "She was so happy that she could teach her granddaughters to crochet. In another letter, a little 4-year-old is calling this 'party days' because mom and dad are home and they can do all kinds of fun things."
And the nuns are praying for all of us. They've added multiple daily communal prayers for the end of the virus, and for those affected physically, emotionally and financially, said Sister Mary Christiana, a 17-year resident.
"Our country is very generous," said Sister Mary Matthew. "Where there is a crisis, goodness comes out. It's the face of God, the face of love."
Mother Mary Barbara said she's grateful that people are being so cooperative in abiding by the rules created for safety. It would have been easy, she said, for there to be "a lot of rebellion and people objecting and not cooperating."
"So much beauty is coming from this," said Sister Mary Christiana.
"People might be blaming God," said Sister Marie Elizabeth, cloistered for 23 years. "God is all love and all good. He can't produce anything bad."
And that leads to the sisters' final tip: Remember that love has no barriers.
"There's still that love and presence," Mother Immaculata said, "even at a distance."