Prayer in a Time of Pandemic

Over the last couple of weeks, with a slower pace in the mornings and no school drop-offs to make or appointments to get to, I have been experiencing a renewal in my connection to tefillah, prayer. One of the things that I deeply appreciate about the siddur (prayerbook) is that while the words of the prayers remain the same from day to day and week to week, they speak to me differently depending on what is going on in the world and in my own life.

I have especially noticed that we can find the theme of God as healer woven throughout our liturgy.

In the blessings said before the morning Shema, we acknowledge many aspects of God’s role in continually renewing creation, including as the creator of cures. The weekday amidah includes a petition for healing:

Heal us, Adonai, and we shall be healed.

Save us and we shall be saved, for you are our praise.

Bring complete healing for all our afflictions, for You, sovereign God, are a faithful and compassionate healer.

Blessed are you, Adonai, who heals the sick among the people Israel.

As we see the Covid-19 pandemic spread around us, it can be easy to question whether praying for healing really accomplishes anything. For many of us, the idea that God will directly intervene in nature to reverse the spread of the virus is out of step with our understanding of how the world works.

I think that it may be more useful to think of prayer not as petition, but as a crying out, an expression of our need and emotion in a moment of personal or communal crisis.

Our need for healing is one our most profound spiritual needs, and it goes beyond healing of the physical body. We may need healing of our minds, of broken hearts and broken relationships, or of our spirits. Whether or not we have been directly affected by the coronavirus, it is a communal crisis that impacts us all. The uncertainty and anxiety of this time are stressful in and of themselves and may affect our mental, emotional, or spiritual well-being.

The words of prayer offer us an outlet for expressing our anger, pain, sadness, or frustration. Even if we are isolated and feel alone, even if we fear that the people we care about won’t listen or couldn’t handle it if we said what we really think – our tradition teaches that there is a divine presence that listens, cares, and can take anything we throw its way.

Whether you turn to the siddur or the Psalms, express yourself in your own words, or take a quiet moment to meditate, I encourage you to find a way to get in touch with how you are feeling at this challenging time.

I wish everyone a chodesh tov, and pray that the Hebrew month of Nisan will be one of renewal and healing for all of us.

(Originally sent via email March 26, 2020)