Updated June 11, 2020 - 3:42 pm
The Rev. Paul Marc Goulet has seen firsthand how the coronavirus pandemic has been so hard for so many people.
Illness and death. Layoffs and job losses. The stress of dealing with an unknown virus and the isolation, loneliness and anxiety it has caused.
So what’s the spiritual lesson in all of this?
For Goulet, senior leader of the International Church of Las Vegas, it’s in the way members of his congregation have stepped up to help others.
Many “are hurting and have lost jobs,” he said. “But they’re going, ‘What can I get out of this? How can I become part of the solution and not part of the problem?’ ”
Faith and the pandemic
A recent survey by the University of Chicago Divinity School and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research explores how faith can play a role in forming someone’s views about the pandemic and, conversely, how the pandemic can affect people’s faith.
According to the survey, 26 percent of respondents said their faith or spirituality has become stronger because of the outbreak, while only 1 percent say the pandemic has weakened their faith.
The study said 61 percent of people who have a religious affiliation “are engaging in pro-social behaviors, like looking after neighbors,” versus 39 percent of those without a religious affiliation.
And, the survey said, 63 percent of people who believe in God said that God is “telling humanity to change how it’s living,” although only 11 percent attribute the pandemic to “human sinfulness.”
Finding a message
The Rev. J. Barry Vaughn hasn’t been hearing that. But if there are spiritual lessons to be learned from the pandemic, they can begin with one that’s timeless.
“I have seen people respond by looking after each other,” said Vaughn, rector of Christ Church Episcopal. “My folks are doing a really good job of calling each other and finding out what’s going on with them.”
Vaughn wouldn’t disagree that there might be messages to be found in the pandemic. “I think God is in it. I just don’t know what the message is,” he says.
“But what cheers me up a little bit is we hope we’ll realize we are responsible for each other, that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.”
And, Vaughn says, “I just hope we realize that life is fragile.”
Another potential lesson may lie in the value of community the pandemic has revealed, said Rabbi Malcolm Cohen of Temple Sinai.
“During a time like coronavirus or any other time, honestly, the impact of bringing people together is the most important thing,” he said. “The thing we have most been talking about is the need for community or the relationships (we) miss.”
The pandemic and the shutdown it prompted also have fostered a renewed appreciation for the familiar rituals and traditions we share, Cohen said. “There’s something about actions and ritual and practices which is comforting and holds people together.”
Loss and suffering
The pandemic also has reacquainted us with the pain of loss. Monsignor Gregory Gordon, pastor of Saint Anne Catholic Church, said people have been grieving the loss of loved ones. But, he said, they’re also grieving being separated from family members, job and financial losses, and even the simple loss of freedom in not being able to do what we wish.
So, he said, Christians are called to “turn back to the Lord, who suffered for us, and remember the sufferings we are undergoing now, whether it’s the physical suffering of illness or just being separated from your congregation.”
Faith and gratitude
Another lesson, Goulet says, is that it’s all right to feel the pain that the pandemic is causing.
“We can’t be so spiritual that we’re not normal,” he says. “We’re realists here. It’s not God. God doesn’t send a virus and sickness and disease. We live in nature. People get sick.”
But, Goulet said, facing the challenges of the pandemic also can help to strengthen faith.
“I think the bottom line is, 99 percent of people are getting closer to God,” Goulet said, and while the pandemic “doesn’t come from God … God still can use it.”