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A new year, a new me

COVID pandemic and the rediscovery of prayer as relationship

By John-Paul Markides

Have you ever drifted from a loved one, and did not even know it had happened till you sat down with them and realized they have become a stranger? I recently had that realization about my relationship with God. It was there, and I had been doing all the things I had to do, but the soul had gone from it.

Earlier this year, I would sit out on the porch to have my morning coffee, where my husband joined me with his soon after. I enjoyed the feeling of the cool air blowing on my face, watching families drop off kids at daycare. The families passed by, kids in their surgical masks, followed by a deep, pungent odor of disinfectant.

“The world is so different than when we were kids,” I said to my husband, while looking at the parents who looked as though they were run so ragged by the burdens of juggling overwhelming and complex responsibilities.

“Change is the only thing that stays the same,” Kasimir replied. I feel like I should be doing something! I find myself asking “What can I do? I can’t help; I can’t share their burden. I feel like the world is falling apart, and all I can do is watch from the window?”

He looked me dead in the eye and said, “You can pray.”

How dare he, the atheist?! My eyes rolled so far back in my head they could have fallen out. “The world doesn’t need more words; the world needs help!” Some days are harder than others. Of course, I knew he was right, but in my heart, I was thinking: “We are fraying at the seams and God asks me to pray!”

I have always thought of prayer as the expression of a relationship with God. A pouring out of one’s emotions, petitions and love in gratitude to the creator. Isn’t this what we see from the many stories of the Bible, sometimes in action? For Jael it was a tent peg of justice; Moses was raising his hands high for days in prayer; Mother Mary consented to a miracle in Jesus… And even for Jesus, his anxious prayer would have him perspiring blood.

For many of us the act of public worship in the church is the high point, mainstay and perhaps for some only regular acts of prayer. When COVID hit, this was no longer an option: the pews of people, the lights, bells, songs and suits, all disappeared. Gone was the coffee gossip, and dare I say, judging eyes. It soon was just me, my book and God. I used to think of myself as a prayerful person, but COVID showed me that even there I had lost touch with my first love. Sure, we have been able to go back to worship in a church, thank God, at least for a while but it’s not the same.

I have felt an air of anxiety, a sense of weightiness with these drastic changes and dire warnings. It is hard to sit and be still when there is so much to worry about. But I decided I would make a habit and routine of prayer. After this realization, I told myself “tomorrow morning, you are going to renew your morning devotions.”

I started small and short, but over the next few days and weeks it took off, and I found my anxiety was different, not gone, but manageable. I felt I was adding a kind of meaning to my days. It became my coffee time with Jesus. I developed a habit, but the prayer was not always the same; some days I read the Bible, some the prayer book or some just prayer beads and the name Jesus. Nothing crazy happened; I didn’t see visions and I didn’t dream dreams; heck some days I would get my coffee and say good morning to Jesus, and we would just sit in each other’s company.

I still miss the time I used to spend with my church community; this time of isolation, brought on by COVID, has caused me to return to a simpler form of devotion. My days have grown lighter, and dare I say, longer, I find myself on occasion praying multiple times a day, and not just a word or two but actual conversations with God, not so much one sided as shared with deep silence.

By letting my relationship with God grow stale I realized that I had been cheating myself out of the tools I needed to be able to do more than simply survive this pandemic. The centeredness and value I have found in this time of prayer has shown me that I do have faith, not just in Jesus but in myself and most of all, in us.

We have the strength to do this; we will see a way through and we will prosper again.

John-Paul Markides (he/him), CFC, is a member of Proud Anglicans of Huron.