In the span of a short few months acts of devotion and generosity have come into greater focus in humanity’s collective life, even as the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt societies and cause great suffering.
“The soul’s natural impulse to pray, to turn to its Creator at times of joy or difficulty, was so often muted and forgotten in the distractions of daily life,” says Ivone Marlen Scărlătescu, member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Romania. “But now, with this crisis, people are being reoriented toward their spiritual nature, the thing that unites us all, and are realizing the importance of prayer.”
The Baha’is of Romania, responding to growing interest in prayer within their country, have been holding online devotional gatherings for all who wish to join. “Bridges to greater dialogue are being built as people come to pray together daily,” says Mrs. Scărlătescu. “People’s hearts are starting to beat as one. We are witnessing a new form of camaraderie based on prayer, solidarity, and care for each other.”
These comments echo sentiments expressed by many people throughout the world. In East Borneo, Indonesia, as a group of friends began to gather online to pray for the well-being of their country, they found it natural to reflect on how they could help others in their immediate neighborhoods. Their conversations have led to an initiative that produces and distributes masks to those who need them most.
“When a few people gather to pray and think deeply about the meaning of the sacred words they are saying, they gain a clearer vision of what is important and feel more united. They are able to make decisions and take action to address the needs they see around them,” says Rina Tjua Leena of Indonesia’s Baha’i office of external affairs.
People who once felt invisible or unnoticed—even to their neighbors—are finding that collective prayer has the power to make friends of strangers. In places where Baha’i Houses of Worship stand, live broadcasts of devotional programs and online gatherings for collective prayer have brought many people together, allaying anxieties and inspiring hope.
In Santiago, Chile, a participant of these devotional gatherings explains how coming together to pray has created bonds of friendship among people who were previously unknown to each other.
“Neighbors are now continually offering support whenever they can. If someone goes to the supermarket or the pharmacy, they let others know in case they need something.”
But feeling a sense of interconnectedness has not been dependent on access to the Internet. In many parts of the world, people have established networks of phone calls to join each other in prayer or prepared radio broadcasts of devotional programs for their localities.
In Kamuli, Uganda, where Baha’is have been broadcasting daily programs on the importance of a devotional life, David Waiswa, a resident of the area, says: “This daily moment of prayer becomes a time when all members of a family can look at profound questions together and even consult about family matters.
“In the environment of love, unity, and understanding created through prayer, family members not only become more thoughtful toward one another, but also more aware of the needs of the community around them.”
Hanna Ihsan, a young person from Jordan, reflects on moments of devotion with her peers: “What has helped us get through this difficult time has been turning toward God and praying together. And also to talk about how this pandemic affects our lives, how we can help each other get through this hard time, and how our society can progress beyond this crisis.”