I write this amid a global pandemic unseen since the Spanish Flu of 1918. The COVID-19 virus has caused the mandated shutdown of many restaurants, retails stores, churches, and most gathered groups. With weekly worship services canceled for Christians and those of other religions all across the world, taking with it the ability to sing, pray, and–most distressingly–participate in Holy Communion together, we suddenly find ourselves in the position of feeling alone in growing and expressing our faith.
However, while this can impede our worship in some respects, we can also see it as an invite to other expressions. It can even be a way to grow our spirituality. We stand on the shoulders of Christians who, over the centuries, sought and encouraged times of silence and solitude, our very Lord Jesus amongst them (Matthew 14:23; Mark 6:31; Luke 4:42, 5:16, et al). During this time of quarantine, here are my suggestions for maintaining, and even growing, our relationship with God:
Form Prayer Rhythms
When our schedule changes, our disciplines can suffer. Especially if we suddenly have to work from home or spend most of our time away from other people, it can be harder to structure our day. Fight it, and work prayer into it.
Like the monastics of old, set aside for yourself specific times daily to pray and read scripture. Of course, we should always study scripture, but we often forget that we need to read, meditate on, and pray through it as well. My favorite way of doing this is with the Daily Office from the Book of Common Prayer. While rooted in the Anglican tradition, Christians of all stripes have practiced this, including many of my Baptist friends. The original releases of the Book of Common Prayer, culminating in the 1662 version, had morning and evening prayer-times, while later prayerbooks have included shorter midday and compline (nighttime) prayer-times as well. An easy way to get started is to use one of the many apps or websites that deliver the liturgy with the day’s appropriate collects and scripture readings to you. My favorite of these is DailyOffice2019.com, which uses the Anglican Church in North America’s version of the prayerbook and its accompanying scripture lectionary. If you want my selection of preferences, click here.
Our world is so busy that we often get anxious if noise isn’t around us. Lean into that. Find out what it means to listen to what your mind and heart and contemplating and what the Spirit of God might be saying to you. A good practice as we develop rhythms of silence is to meditate upon scripture. This scripture can be either the readings from your daily morning and evening selections or yet another. If it is a narrative passage, imagine yourself within the scene described; this is an old Ignatian practice meant to engage our imagination for our sanctification.
Another ancient method is called Lectio Divina. In the silence, the first thing to do is to read that passage. Then, sit in the quiet and contemplate that passage; let it stir within you. What strikes you about it? After a while, spend some time responding in prayer to God. Then, rest and let the passage do its work in your life.
Lastly (for today, at least), I want to suggest taking nice long walks outside. The first reason to walk is that it gets our bodies moving, and this helps our minds to function better. I even find I pray best when I am walking. Perhaps this is why centuries of Christians have hiked through nature, walked labyrinths, and used other methods of motion while praying and meditating.
The second reason links with this: a good portion of the above two exercises, prayer times and quiet, can be accomplished while walking. Doing a structured exercise like the Daily Office or Lectio Divina may, by their use of scripture, need a more grounded place for reading (unless one uses audio versions with headphones, which do exist). However, having a set time to walk and have a one-on-one conversation with God can be soul-encouraging.
The third reason flows from this: God, by his general revelation, shows himself to us in many ways through nature. Really listen to the birds. Feel the breeze. See the sunlight stream through the trees. Experiencing the beauty of his creation is a great way to reorient us in the context of what he has made.
Finally, a walk can be our mission, even in these isolated times. While it may be advisable not to interact closely with our neighbors for a time, we can still pray for them. What better way, then, but to pray for our neighborhoods and our cities as we walk within them?
I hope that, amidst or even because of the anxiety of situations like the current pandemic, we can seek God more fully. We may find ourselves without our brothers and sisters singing and praying beside us for long periods. However, if we seek the Lord, and if we are still in prayer and worship in our own lives, even then are we united with the Body of Christ past, present, future, and worldwide.
(Cover art: Mattia Preti, St. Paul the Hermit, ca. 1675)