Prayer in a Time of Pandemic

March 2, 2020 | Daniel Johnson
About the author: Daniel Johnson, the founding editor (2008-2018) of the British magazine Standpoint, is now the founding editor of TheArticle and a regular contributor to cultural and political publications in the UK and the U.S.

Considering the growing fears that the spread of the coronavirus infection may turn into a global epidemic, Daniel Johnson reflects on the value of prayer:

In past times of plague, prayer was not only humanity’s last resort but often the only one. Today, fortunately, there is a great deal that we can do to prevent or mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. But we are also beginning to realize that in our globally interconnected era, there is a high price to be paid for any interruption in trade or travel. Our best laid plans are of limited effect; and the freedom of movement that we prize is now problematic.

Hence this is a time when the power of prayer comes into its own. Prayer does not presuppose faith. We do not all pray to the same God or gods. Many people who do not believe in any God, who never visit a church or mosque or temple or synagogue, nevertheless find comfort in prayer.

The Christian understanding of prayer, notes Johnson, draws on a Jewish belief that prayer is generally “not about asking God to do what we want.”

It is not given to us human beings to determine everything that befalls us in our lives. We must learn to accept our frailties and our insignificance in this often unforgiving world.

Yet through prayer we are reminded that none of us is alone. Our cries are heard, even if we do not know it. Faced with challenges that surpass our strength, we can take comfort in the idea that each and every one of us does matter, if only we open ourselves to the idea of something beyond ourselves. To pray is to be human; to be human is to pray.

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