What To Do When There Is Nothing To Do

I am writing from Canada where restaurants are closed, schools are shuttered, sports are suspended, and many people are living in self-isolation. In Toronto, and in many other parts of the country, Masses are cancelled. The corona virus has hit Canadians with severity and the government has responded by imposing massive restrictions. For the majority, who are accustomed to living life on a broader plane, they are asking the question “What can we do when there is nothing to do?”

Despite the unprecedented restrictions, this is a time when there is much to do.  We can wait and hope.  But there are more active things that we can do, things that are both readily available and manifestly productive.  This is a time for doing important things that may have been neglected during more salutary times.

This is a time for introspection. The words of priest/poet George Herbert (1593-1633) come to mind: “By all means use sometimes to be alone. Salute thyself: see what thy soul doth wear. Dare to look in thy chest; for ‘Tis thine own: And tumble up and down what thou findst there”. The Socratic dictum, “Know Thyself,” remains elusive to many people. We fail to know who we are in the glare of the opinion of others. In solitude, we have no one to impress. We can use this opportunity to learn about that deeper self that can retain self-possession in a time of adversity.

This is a time for prayer. The corona virus is pandemic. It affects everyone. Our prayers go out to others. Every citizen of the world has become our neighbor. Our prayer links us to God and our fellow human beings simultaneously.  Prayer is not only good for the soul; it is also good for those who stand to benefit from our prayers.  “More things are wrought by prayer,” to borrow a line from Alfred Lord Tennyson, “than this world dreams of.”  No one is ever so restricted that he cannot pray.


This is a time for reading.  Studying the Bible, God’s Holy Word, can be most instructive during perilous times.  In Jonah 3:6 we read about the immorality of the Ninevites and how God’s wrath threatened to destroy them unless they repented.   When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he [the king] rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust”.  The Ninevites, likewise, fasted and dressed in sackcloth thereby averting a catastrophe.  The Bible is written with absolutely no concession to political correctness.  Its authenticity and integrity are unmatched.

This is a time to be Christian.  The present pandemic has turned many homes into miniature monasteries.  The distinguished Catholic historian, Christopher Dawson, spells out the only realistic choice we have, especially in times when the light of morality threatens to go out:  “The only power that can liberate man from this kingdom of darkness is the Christian faith.  For in the modern Western world there are no alternative solutions, no choice of other possible religions.  It is a choice between Christianity or nothing.  And Christianity is still a live option.”  We should avail ourselves of that option, for it is the only one that can deliver us from our present transgressions.

Whether we think in terms of sociology, philosophy, or theology, it is plain enough for everyone to see that a great danger engulfs us.  Introspection, prayer, learning from the Bible, and the Christian faith place us on the only road that leads us out from the present wilderness.  There is much to do and we should put it into practice without delay.


Dr. Donald DeMarco—Prof. Emeritus, St. Jerome’s University; Adjunct Prof., Holy Apostles College & Seminary. He is a regular columnist for the St. Austin Review. His latest books, How To Navigate through Life and Apostles of the Culture of Life is posted on amazon.com. He is also the author of How to Flourish in a Fallen World (En Route publishers). Reflections on the Covid-19 virus: A Search for Meaning is in production.

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