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A dear friend called my wife and I the other day, crying. She said “I’m so anxious about this virus, and so concerned about the terrible toll it’s taking. What can I do?”
Like many people confined in isolation, she has a sense of powerlessness, a seeming inability to do much besides sit home and worry.
If you met our friend, you’d probably call her an empath, someone who deeply feels the pain that others feel. She truly cares about humanity, and personally experiences its joy and sadness in equal measures. So the coronavirus pandemic, because of its impact on everyone, has hit her hard. Sometimes she breaks into tears for no apparent reason, just because the pain of the disease and the toll it’s taking on the world affects her so much.
If you have a sensitive soul, or know a person like her, you can probably appreciate that feeling.
Right away my wife and I suspected that the standard approach for quelling anxiety wouldn’t work in this case. Our friend and her partner have followed all the good public health advice – frequent hand-washing, staying home, social distancing, etc.—so that wouldn’t help, either. We couldn’t just reassure her that she was safe personally, because her concerns aren’t for herself – they’re for humanity as a whole.
Like so many of us, she feels unable to do anything that will change the course of Covid-19 transmission and stop the suffering it causes. Sitting at home day after day and feeling powerless to help will do that to you. These feelings build up and cause her a great deal of inner anxiety – just as they do for millions of people all around the planet.
We wanted to help her in some way, so we asked “Have you thought about starting a spiritual practice?”
“What do you mean?” she said.
“It’s what we do every morning,” my wife Teresa explained. “We sit down together and read prayers and passages from the Baha’i writings and then meditate on their meaning. It really helps us.”
“It gives us a sense of peace and calm,” I added. “Helps us feel like we’re contributing something to our spiritual well-being, and to the world’s. Diminishes anxiety, too.”
“You do that every morning?” Our friend asked.
“That’s one of the most important parts,” I said. “If you make it a daily thing, it’ll gradually become a habit, and then a regular part of your life, and ultimately it will turn into a spiritual practice that you won’t ever want to miss.”
“No need to make it long or tedious,” Teresa said. “Just a brief start to the day as the sun rises, enough to feed your soul a little spiritual nutrition.”
This recommendation didn’t come from us, we explained. The Baha’i teachings ask all Baha’is to “Recite ye the verses of God every morn and eventide.” (Baha’u’llah, The Most Holy Book) Baha’u’llah defined it this way:
Read ye the sacred verses in such measure that ye be not overcome by languor and despondency. Lay not upon your souls that which will weary them and weigh them down, but rather what will lighten and uplift them, so that they may soar on the wings of the Divine verses towards the Dawning-place of His manifest signs; this will draw you nearer to God, did ye but comprehend. – Ibid.
The intention is all that hath been sent down from the Heaven of Divine Utterance. The prime requisite is the eagerness and love of sanctified souls to read the Word of God. To read one verse, or even one word, in a spirit of joy and radiance, is preferable to the perusal of many Books. – Ibid.
To feel that joyousness and radiance, to know that our Creator feels love for the creation, can calm our hearts and console our spirits. It can take us out of our immediate worry and anxiety and transcend the moment, leading us to an eternal perspective. “Something in the Baha’i writings – especially reading and meditation on Baha’u’llah’s words – soothes the soul,” my wife said.
Intone, O My servant, the verses of God that have been received by thee, as intoned by them who have drawn nigh unto Him, that the sweetness of thy melody may kindle thine own soul, and attract the hearts of all men. Whoso reciteth, in the privacy of his chamber, the verses revealed by God, the scattering angels of the Almighty shall scatter abroad the fragrance of the words uttered by his mouth, and shall cause the heart of every righteous man to throb. Though he may, at first, remain unaware of its effect, yet the virtue of the grace vouchsafed unto him must needs sooner or later exercise its influence upon his soul. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah
“I’ll try it,” our friend said.