Dominican nun, Anne Lécu is a doctor in prison in the Paris region. She is particularly interested in issues related to the body and embodiment.
The pandemic imposes a limitation of gestures. How does this affect our practice, our prayer, in a religion where the incarnation is so important?
Praying with others is still possible with masks and an open door! With regard to the Catholic celebration par excellence, the Eucharist, I think that people have generally become accustomed to being masked. Obviously, we would prefer to be able to touch each other and see our faces.
But personally, I prefer to be masked, vaccinated and that the other is well, because I find it wiser. This is respect for life… Presence to the other, when we can get together again, does not seem to me to be in danger in worship.
On the other hand, it is much more damaged in everyday life. This means seeing people less often, not being able to meet or eat together as before, or thinking that you can infect someone.
You mention respect for life. What does the pandemic tell us about this?
It makes us question what it means to be present to the other. Confinement or restrictions could close us in on ourselves and make us forget that there are people who are alone and who need to be checked in, including by telephone. It makes me realize that there are vulnerable people who need to be protected, which sometimes means not going to see them and sometimes, on the contrary, going there. It’s a difficult balance. This means talking to each other, more than ever.
But isn’t our sense of incarnation upset?
The incarnation is a presence, and does not only refer to the body in its materiality. The pandemic forces us to ask ourselves: what is it to be present to the other? You have to reposition yourself, dig a distance that is not an absence. This year, for example, I wrote long letters to my friends, which I hadn’t done for a long time.
However, I understand that for people who are isolated or working remotely, the absence of others can be a nightmare, because we produce something when we are physically together. Those who really suffer are the parents of young children, the teachers, and not really the believers, per se.
The sense of touch, too, is injured by the imposed distance…
More than the touch, what is hurt in my opinion is the fact of breathing, which is more intimate. The air we breathe is potentially a carrier of the virus, and that is what worries people the most. Because to breathe is to live, and the fear of breathing is difficult to live with.
We can touch each other while masked, that’s no problem. In families, we can take the children in our arms… As far as I’m concerned, for example, I was very critical at the start of telemedicine, because in prison, people are starting to tell us that to deal with the lack of doctors, video consultations could be something of a silver bullet.
I am convinced that the other must be present in front of me with his smells, his gestures and all that he is, to understand what his complaint is precisely. Nevertheless, the pandemic has reshuffled the cards, and it is sometimes better to have a remote consultation at home, with a specialist, to get real advice, than to wait three hours in an icy room. Sometimes, between two evils, you have to choose the lesser, and therefore accept to be at a distance. But that doesn’t solve the real problem.
In what ?
The new technical means are increasingly making it possible to imagine remote solutions… Detainees can live their consultations and their trial in video, and why not their visiting rooms, as is already the case in the United States. There, there is really enough to go crazy. At some point, the physical presence of the other must be unavoidable.