Praying During a Pandemic: Out of Our Hands

Pray-Her

My hands are clean. I promise that I didn’t do this. I prayed for a slower pace, for the closing down of my private warehouse that manufactures speed. Conveyor belt mentality, I mass produce; the more words I put together, the merrier I am. You can’t tell but I’ve only got one pair of hands.

My hands were tied. I promise that I didn’t pray for this pandemic, for a world sick and shut-in. I didn’t want countries to close, economies to falter, businesses to shutter, and millions to become unemployed. I didn’t ask for this mass separation of grandparents from their children and grandchildren, this burdensome task to fall on the shoulders of healthcare workers, police officers, and all those on the front lines whose aim is to save lives and keep us safe.

Mass death and grief—this is not what I asked God for. Still, my prayers are seemingly being answered while not in the way that I had envisioned or desired. I am getting what I wanted but I have lost my freedom to come and go as I please, to reach out and touch my family—literally. My mother’s immune system is compromised; a face-to-face conversation could kill her if I have been exposed to the virus.

So, we celebrate birthdays over FaceTime. We shop, work, and worship behind masks and screens. We keep our distance and every home is an island unto itself. With no village to raise the children, they have made themselves the chief. Sleep-deprived parents submit to their leadership. Let them eat cake and candy and drink sodas. We are all just trying to survive and not kill each other.

But I may be tempted if you say, “Everything happens for a reason” when we still haven’t traced the virus back to a lab or a wet market in Wuhan, China. Or, “God needed another angel” as if the Divine is so attention-hungry that God will kill us just for the praise. Or “God loved them more” as if death is a tug-o-war with the God who is Love. The virus is in the air and the meaning of all of this is above us.

Still, I wonder what we are to make of this imbalance of fortunes—protests against the stay-at-home orders in the midst of profound death, the calls to get back to work while some have no jobs to return to, the blatant disregard for the weak and the vulnerable and the complacent finger-pointing of the powerful. Unmasked by the virus, who we really are is on display.

N.T. Wright says, “But at a time of special crisis, when death sneaks into houses and shops, when a handshake can infect you and a hug can kill you, this is a time of lament, for admitting that we don’t have easy answers, for weeping at the tomb of our friends, for the inarticulate groaning of the spirit.”* So I invite you to pray with uncertainty, to confess our collective futility, to admit our vulnerabilities. Because this is not what we prayed for and it is out of our hands.

* N.T. Wright shared these thoughts in a presentation titled “What should a Christian say about Coronavirus?,” offered via pre-recorded video at the Spiritual First Aid Summit on April 30, 2020. Side note: T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets—“I said to my soul be still and let the dark come upon you, which shall be the darkness of God.”

Reverend Starlette Thomas is the Minister to Empower Congregations at the D.C. Baptist Convention. She writes on the social construct of race and the practice of faith at www.racelessgospel.com. Her hobbies include reading, writing, and Starbucks.

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