In the last few weeks, Passover and Easter, two very major religious holidays have taken place. These are times which most believers would be with their extended friends and families, or in synagogues and churches. But unfortunately, due to The Great Virus (I refuse to keep calling its name- too much potent negativity), they are unable to do so. But it’s not just an issue for big religious holidays. Everyday communal worshipping and rituals have been interrupted by The Virus. Sunday service, Jummah, the Langar and other religious proceedings all require communication, physical proximity and collective worship, which aren’t compatible with social distancing. And for those who feel that the best way to commune with the gods is by attending congregational worship, this is a time which may be a struggle, and often people may feel their faith slipping, like it’s not being appropriately fulfilled, or that they are not being good believers.
There have been a lot of suggestions by friends and in the media of holding services over Zoom, prayers, meals, etc. But aside from the fact that certain people can’t work this technology, and as a result would be left out of the communion with their god and the love of those close to them, certain religious rituals don’t work virtually. Jummah prayer, Holy communion, Mass and other rituals can’t adequately be conducted over Zoom or Skype.
The problem is, though, that you also can’t replace them with other religious acts. You can’t replace Jummah prayer with regular noon prayer. It simply won’t work. You can’t carry out a baptism at home without an ordinated priest, and all the charity in the world won’t stand in for giving a traditional Langar at a Gurdwara. So, my suggestion is don’t try to substitute them because whatever you come up with is going to pale in comparison. Instead focus on things that will strengthen your faith, make you feel peaceful, or part of something bigger than yourself, in the same way that you would if you were performing collective worship, without trying to recreate it.
And now is the best time to remind yourself, that it’s not those you surround yourself with or the building you’re in, that makes you a Christian, a Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, etc. It’s your faith and your faith alone. Congregational worship is an addition to this faith, not a self-contained manifestation of it. And faith can be experienced in non-conventional, solitary ways.
You can meditate, say more prayers or fast for a few days at a time, in a way that suits you, to make you feel more spiritual. Do communal readings of your religious texts over phone calls or with those in your household, if you share the same faith. Set aside time to read these religious texts daily to give you at least an hour a day to feel more spiritual than usual. Listen to sermons on your device. Sometimes (certainly for me), reading religious texts on your own can feel robotic and faithless. Not understanding the text, not finding any beauty in your own reading, needing to hear a true orator recite to you, or not being able to set aside any time in the day to just read can all deter you from picking up the word of your god on your own.
But listening to someone else read to you, especially if you like the way they read or preach, can be very helpful and very often the orator will explain the text, so you understand it, and it may still move you to profound devotion. It may calm you in a way that your own reading won’t, and you can listen to it while you are getting on with your other chores, so you’re still being productive.
And lastly, utilise nature. For many, it’s not just the inability to assemble that is an issue, but the absence of the holy building itself. Just being in a sacred space, can be a faithful experience that some people need more than others. And yes, collective worship in sanctified buildings is part of what aids spirituality, but you don’t become spiritual by being in a building, it comes from within. And these spaces are usually constructed to glorify, both the beauty and power of their god. But whilst these man-made constructions are currently closed, your god’s own creation – nature- is still open and teeming with signs of their power and presence. Take a walk in it, read in it, listen to Quran/ sermons in it while your jogging, pray in it be at one with your god through their own natural house.
And with Ramadan coming along for Muslims, I know it won’t feel as reverent as it normally would. Ramadan is about fasting, but a considerable part of it is also about being together; eating together; inviting friends and family around for iftar, and praying Taraweeh together. And if lockdown does in fact, continue until June, a gift-less Eid and lack of Eid prayers are going to cause a lot of distress. But you can still feel the sanctity of Ramadan within yourself, and it can still be a holy time without the mosque if you remember that a massive part of your faith is not bound to a building, but to what’s in your heart.
Hopefully, some of the techniques laid out in this article will help people to think about spirituality differently and help them get through this lockdown, without feeling their spirituality dwindle in the absence of ordered religious assemblies.
Your god can be all around you if you allow them to be, and it’s what’s in your heart and within your power to carry out, that counts towards enhancing your faith, not a building.