The embrace

March 24, 2020 in coronavirus

Gavin T. Murphy keeps a blog on and he looks to Ignatian Spirituality for strength and inspiration.

“Yes to her embrace filled with wholeness” (The Magnificent Magnificat of Mary, Messenger, December 2018).

As I ponder my mother’s painting this week, I see something we all would like to experience right now with our loved ones. The older girl is holding and embracing the younger girl while appearing to talk to her about something important, something precious, something just between the two of them. But in my imagination, I see these two girls walking with each other while keeping their required distance. It is in their minds and hearts that they are being affectionate, and this strikes me as infinitely possible for all of us at the moment.

Solitude, not isolation

From a contemplative point of view, it is important to distinguish between the above terms. I think it is misleading to tell people at risk of infection that they should ‘self-isolate’. Isolation suggests a detachment from intimate relationships, an unhealthy loneliness that leaves people feeling completely alone in the world. But this may not be the case. Instead, solitude implies a physical distance from others, a time of retreat and reflection, but these people are deeply in tune with themselves, others and the world. It is possible for them to feel as close as the girls by the seashore.


In the animal kingdom, a cocoon refers to a protective covering during a stage of development of some insects such as moths. It is part of the insect’s complete metamorphosis (‘change of form’) from egg to adult. In the news, we hear it being referred to as a period of ‘self-isolation’ especially among the most vulnerable, so that they can protect themselves from the threat of the coronavirus. The reality is we can all be a big sister or big brother to one another. We can give words of encouragement. We can feel close while having to keep our distance.

Oil painting by Siobhan Murphy.

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