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COVID-19 Archive

Images and Stories from Vermont

Finding Faith during COVID-19

Title

Finding Faith during COVID-19

Description

I discussed faith with several local religious leaders.

Creator

Sam Sylvia Powers

Date

Spring of 2020

Spatial Coverage

Text

I lack an organized faith and, as a result, I have found it is sometimes difficult to cope with what’s going on in the world. Everything is in disarray. Everything is off-kilter.

Many people, in times of crisis, turn to their religion to offer guidance--a tried and true method for easing psychic pain. The way I have typically operated--with no place to direct my faith--doesn’t seem to be cutting it. After my conversations with five local religious leaders of different faiths, I have started thinking very critically about what I believe and why.

To be perfectly frank, I still don’t believe in God, but these faith leaders have taught me that it matters less what you believe in and more why you believe.

Weight of the World

During the time of Corona, I have felt a tremendous pressure to do something, anything to aid in the recovery. However--quite paradoxically--we have been told to do nothing. Like many, I’ve felt that, in quarantine, it’s my job to keep my ship afloat. But, we are not supposed to act, lest we further spread the Disease. Reverend Amy Spagna of the St. James Episcopal Church said it best when she described a “want to do”. We feel that we’re not contributing enough to what’s happening or we somehow feel that we’re complicit. We then internalize these feelings of hopelessness and dread.

How do we deal with those feelings? Many people of faith turn to a higher power.

“We have this connection with a higher power… that gives us reassurance that we’re not alone… and there’s someone to trust and… ‘give it to’ besides yourself. When you think you’re carrying the weight of the world yourself… that’s a heavy weight. And, when you really truly believe… that there’s someone with me to help me carry whatever burdens I have to carry… that makes it so much easier to go on in life in times of tragedy,” Reverend Amanda Swoyer of the North Pomfret Congregational Church explains.

So where does that leave me? What do I do if I don’t believe in a higher power? Who can I “give it to”? Just like those with faith, I’m feeling this dread, but, unlike them, I don’t have a higher power to look to.

Power in Powerlessness

“I can’t imagine that you can think your way through this. This is something that we cry our ways out of and laugh our ways through and dance our ways out of and play music through,” described Reverend Doctor Leon Dunkley, leader of the North Chapel Unitarian Universalist Congregation. This advice was of great comfort to me. Too often, I try to explain away my problems and rationalize until I feel secure, but Rev. Dr. Dunkley reminded me that this approach is harmful, because, “What’s going on is too big for our little logical minds.”

“The reality is that we are always powerless in these ways, we just have fooled ourselves into thinking that we’re not. We think we know what tomorrow holds, but we have no idea,” Pastor Doug Warren, faith leader of the First Congregational Church of Woodstock, echoes. He points out that we must submit to the idea that some situations are beyond our control. Pastor Warren also describes that his faith teaches that God “brings us through those things not to destroy us, but to teach us, to show us.”

While I still reject the existence of a higher being, the Pastor’s words do ring true to me when more abstracted. There is something to be gained from thinking of this period as a time to reflect and learn. While this is a moment filled with death and unrest, we are able to use our time to reflect on why this happened and what we can collectively do better. But, this still leaves me with one question: While I know that some outcomes of this struggle can be positive, how can I be assured, without the knowledge of a higher power, that everything’s going to be okay? The simple answer is: I’m not sure.

I acknowledge that many have found great comfort in a God who is shepherding our world through this crisis. But, where does that leave atheists like me?

To Whom Can A Heretic Turn?

“It’s just...one day at a time. Things change very rapidly…Like a surfer riding on top of the waves, you want to ride it and not get overwhelmed,” Reverend Spagna suggested. I am not assured that everything’s going to be okay, but the simple anecdote Reverend Spagna provides is partially soothing. Though I don’t know that the world will be okay after this is all over, I am instructed to take it “one day at a time”, because what else can I do? There is a certain comfort in this powerlessness.

While I am powerless to change the outcome of a global pandemic, what can I do to help myself and others?

“I think it’s important for people to have support among their peers so that, when they’re leading their people, they can be strong,” Reverend Swoyer mentions. To better lead one another through this crisis, we need to look to our own support systems.

While many people may think that our communities are nonexistent, because we are unable to congregate, “The bonds that hold us together as a community are important…they’re not gone,” Reverend Spagna explains.

We can still FaceTime and Zoom together. We can still play Words With Friends or Tiny Tower. Rev. Dr. Leon Dunkley says, “...it’s really hard, because I think one of the things that we like in community is to get together and spend time with each other and to touch one another and hold one another,” but we are still able to connect virtually.

Rabbi Illene Haigh of the Congregation Shir Shalom cited a verse from Exodus 25:8 that she felt was very apt in describing virtual community-building:

“‘Make me a sanctuary that I might dwell among them’…And that’s what we did. We built a sanctuary that was virtual, but real… The sanctuary we’re building, the virtual community that we’re building is as profound and real as any one that exists anywhere…and the more that we can accept that it’s real, the closer we’ll come to being fulfilled.”

It’s hard to think that Zoom is real, because in real conversations, we don’t lag or glitch and we certainly can’t mute ourselves or others (though, we should look into that technology). But, Rabbi Haigh describes a need to invest in the authenticity of virtual connection, because we have nothing else. This is a faith I can get behind.

I am choosing to have faith in my connection with others. I will believe that the person on my screen is as real as they were a few months ago. I will have faith in the community I have built around me to guide me. And, I know I don’t have to hold my tension alone. I can lean on my peers and mentors. I can take this time in stride.

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Citation

Sam Sylvia Powers, “Finding Faith during COVID-19,” COVID-19 Archive, accessed July 4, 2020, https://covid-19.digitalvermont.org/items/show/377.

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