The title of this article, “O God, refresh and gladden my spirit,” is the first line of one of my favorite prayers.
It is especially meaningful at this time during the COVID-19 pandemic that has up-ended our lives in such a drastic way, a huge change for the entire civilized world that we never even dreamed could have happened. Children’s schools all over the globe have been canceled for months on end, seniors in high school and college are not being able to participate in normal graduation ceremonies and probably receiving their diplomas in the mail, people are not being able to worship God in churches or synagogues or mosques or meeting places, huge layoffs of workers in all vocations — from restaurant workers, lawyers, accountants, retail store employees, hair dressers, salon artists, barbers, gym coaches, dentists, psychologists, some doctors and many others — all either working from home or out of work completely.
Social distancing — not being able to be with friends, family who doesn’t live with you, co-workers, neighbors — has us all aching for the friendship and companionship that we have grown accustomed to all our lives. The wearing of masks and gloves to help prevent the spread of the virus when we do venture out for groceries or medicine or essential supplies is also a huge change. Not having enough food to eat is a horrible tragedy. Food banks and charitable groups are working tirelessly to help people who have lost their incomes.
The prayer continues: ”Purify my heart. Illuminate my powers. I lay my affairs in thy hand ... “
Hopefully we will not see a resurgence of this virus, and we wonder when this will all end, and when it does, how will our lives look at that point? This upheaval of our lives is as great, or greater, than what happened to our grandparents or great-grandparents during the Great Depression of 1929-33, when the stock market crashed and people lived through it by subsistence survival. Some of the things they did to survive was hoarding small pieces of aluminum foil, or eating a piece of lettuce with a sprinkle of sugar. The term “poor man’s meal” could have meant chili and beans, hot dogs with slices of potato, egg drop soup, spaghetti with carrots and white sauce, macaroni and cheese, or a Hoover hog, a jackrabbit, when no other food could be found. There were long food lines and many people lost their homes and all their material goods.
The prayer goes on: ”Thou art my guide and my refuge. I will no longer be sorrowful and grieved; I will be a happy and joyful being ...”
We are now beginning to see the next phase of this 2020 pandemic, with states reopening certain areas of their economies at different times, depending on the COVID-19 new cases and deaths. We are also hoping that we will not have to endure another wave of this virus, and waiting, waiting, patiently waiting for an effective vaccine to be created and administered to most of our population to ensure we do not have a repeat of this terrible illness.
Let me share with you the rest of the above prayer: “O God! I will no longer be full of anxiety, nor will I let trouble harass me. I will not dwell on the unpleasant things of life. O God! Thou art more friend to me than I am to myself. I dedicate myself to thee, O Lord.” — ‘Abdu’l-Baha
As mentioned, this is one of my favorite prayers, one that I memorized when I first became a member of the Baha’i faith in 1965. The power of this prayer is that it offers hope and serenity when being faced with dire challenges, such as what we are experiencing now — illness and death, hunger, poverty, loss of jobs, loss of homes, exhaustion. And, it also helps in normal times when one is living through the various challenges of daily life, such as family problems, illness, difficulties with friends or a job, or just the stresses of normal living. Also, the blessings of committing prayers to memory is that one can recite them wherever and whenever they are needed (in the car, at work, in a hospital, on a walk outdoors).
Besides memorizing and reciting this prayer or other prayers, do we understand why we pray? For others, do we pray? Prayer is a connection between man and God, and we can access God’s help through prayers. Prayers for healing, prayers for thankfulness, prayers for spiritual qualities, prayers for our family, our children, our parents, prayers for aid and assistance, prayers for detachment, prayers for protection, prayers for humanity, prayers for forgiveness, prayers for praise and gratitude, prayers for the departed, and many other prayers.
By saying a prayer we are acknowledging that God can help us through our challenges, and also prayer helps us clean the dust off the mirror of our souls. We can stop what we are doing and communicate with God, which helps us focus on our real eternal values so we can think again about what really matters – we regain a clear vision of what is really important in our lives.
Prayer is a gift from God to man – it connects us to our creator, it clarifies our minds, hearts and souls, and reminds us that we are not ever alone. Because of the love of God for all of us, we will eventually get through this pandemic and restart our lives in a more, or new normal, way. God is here for us now, and He will always be with us.
Susan Haines is a retired teacher and reading specialist who found the Baha’i faith as a teenager, traveling to a Baha’i Summer Institute, Green Acre, in Maine. Having lived in Frederick County for over 40 years, she serves as the Baha’i public information officer for the Baha’is of Frederick.