Praying with Psalm 116 in this time of pandemic*
We love you, O God, because you have heard the voice of our supplications,
because you have inclined your ear to us whenever we called upon you. (Psalm 116, v. 1, adapted)
Because you have been faithful to us, O God, from time immemorial, bringing us time and again out of despair into hope, out of death into new life, yet even now in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic shall we trust you.
The cords of death entangled us;
the grip of the grave took hold of us;
we came to grief and sorrow. (v. 2, adapted)
The count of the dead, and the ill; the endangered; the closed-in, the unemployed or out-of-business or unable to provide for their families – the numbers are beyond our comprehension.
- San Marino, Belgium, Andorra, Spain, Italy, France, St. Marten, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Sweden, Isle of Man, Switzerland, Channel Islands, Ireland, United States, Luxembourg, and Monaco are all reporting more than 100 deaths per 1M population. That’s 2,714,942 confirmed cases worldwide and 190,395 deaths reported so far – but we know those counts are likely to be way underreported, since testing for the virus is basically unavailable in many developing countries. And the first wave of the pandemic hasn’t even peaked yet. (Statistics as of today from https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries).
- Handwashing with soap and water is crucial to preventing the spread of COVID-19. Yet in sub-Saharan Africa (that’s 46 countries), 63 per cent of people in urban areas lack access to handwashing. It’s 22 per cent in the urban regions of Central and South Asia, and 28 per cent in Indonesia. Even many health care facilities don’t have basic sanitation.
- The International Labour Organization this week reported that more than 4 out of five workers globally live in countries affected by full or partial lockdown measures. In the U.S., nearly 27 million people have lost their jobs and filed for unemployment since the crisis began. Half of the private sector workers in France are now unemployed. The United Nations is predicting 195 million jobs will be lost worldwide due to the virus.
- Severe famine “of Biblical proportions” is likely to hit 30 or more under-developed nations due to the labor shortages and supply disruptions caused by the pandemic, according to reports released this week by the United Nations. The greatest worry is for people living in conflict zones and those forced from their homes and into refugee camps, especially in northeastern Nigeria, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
We can’t even name, let alone mourn, that many lives lost, so many countries locked down, so many people trying to shelter in place, so many families disrupted, so many at risk of starvation. We are buried in our grief and shock; tangled between our desire for life to return to normal (soon, if not even sooner) and fear-filled and realistic prudence (that warns it may be months or years before we can safely end our social isolation).
The sheer numbers are beyond our stunned comprehension. Yet you, O God, have known and adored us before we are even born. You count the hairs on every head. You accompany every person who dies, and comfort every person who grieves. You restore the trembling nations. Even now, we shall trust.
Then we called upon your holy Name:
“O God, we pray you, save our lives.” (v. 3, adapted)
And we see your saving hand at work, not through a sudden magic snap of your fingers, but in so many large and small daily items:
- Thousands of scientists, researchers, doctors and other health professionals across the globe, sharing ideas and data across national boundaries in the rush to find a vaccine, a cure.
- An overwhelming number of people in Spain stepping in to foster the pets of those who have fallen ill
- Eric Kim, an Oregon, U.S., high school student who is making clear face masks so the hearing-impaired can communicate while protected.
- Ireland pledging to quadruple its pledge to the World Health Organization. and last Saturday’s “One World: Together At Home” concert in the U.S. that raised $127.9 million for WHO’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.
- Restaurants and bakeries and food trucks in many places donating meals to health care workers and seniors, and individuals and agencies donating money so these businesses can buy more food and pay their employees.
- People posting on the internet, “If anyone near me can’t afford food or medicine, message me, and I’ll help.” And then doing so – for strangers.
- The factory in Kenya that – overnight – transformed from making gardening clothes, to assembling 30,000 surgical masks a day. And what this change symbolizes for the workers there. Josephine Wambua, 24, who never went to school, said, “To sit here and do something that is useful to the world is a dream. I never thought I would be part of something that has the potential of saving millions from dying.”
You, O God, are the one who gives us life, and gives it abundantly. Even now, we shall trust.
We will walk in the presence of God,
In the land of the living. (v. 8, adapted)
We celebrated Earth Day on April 22, marking the 50th such annual celebration. Even from within our COVID-19 restrictions, we could look out and know the presence of God…in a flower, a hummingbird, the stars, the wind….in the face of a loved one here with us, or online, or in our memories…in the commitments we make, to made this a life-giving planet…
For you, O God, have entrusted us with this your world, and with one another – your beloved children.
How shall we repay God
for all the good things done for us?
We will lift up the cup of salvation
and call upon the Name of God.
We will fulfill our vows to God
in the presence of all people. (v10-12, adapted)
Even now, we trust.
*Portions of Psalm 116 will be read this coming Sunday in all churches that use the Revised Common Lectionary. Verses here are adapted from The Saint Helena Psalter. Since we are all so physically isolated these days, it seemed appropriate to change the language of the psalm from a personal, first-person prayer, to one prayed by and for all of us.