Seder dinners via Zoom. Virtual mass and church services online. Friday afternoon prayers at home.
These are what some religious practices during the age of coronavirus look like.
With people hunkering down in their homes and major religious holidays, including Easter, Passover and Ramadan, coming up or already in full swing, many are wondering: How can I worship well and observe holy days virtually? How will it work to celebrate a religious occasion without physically being near our faith communities or our houses of worship?
“One thing we know about humans,” says Erik Larson—chair of the Department of Religious Studies, part of the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs—“we are social beings. Religions have built communities of people that support each other, help each other. We love to meet together. That’s why not being able to meet imposes a real hardship on a lot of people.”
This isolation from religious communities comes at a time when many are seeking refuge in their faith and traditions.
“No matter who you are, if you have religious faith or not, we all come up against times where in the normal course of the world, we feel we can handle things,” says Larson. “But we also come up against times where we know we can’t handle them. It’s really comforting to think we have Someone that’s even bigger than those things.”
So how are FIU community members keeping their faith and observing their sacred days in the age of coronavirus?
Drawing inspiration from faith
Onelia G. Lage, vice chair of education and faculty development at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine's Department of Humanities, Health and Society, has been attending her parish’s livestreamed masses on Sundays.
"I don't think I’d ever attended virtual mass before,” Lage says. “But I’m grateful for the effort that the churches are putting into this and to giving us resources during Lent.”
For Easter Sunday this weekend, she’s planning on participating in Pope Francis’ live streamed mass with her daughter. The two are also hoping to watch Andrea Bocelli’s Easter concert, which will be streamed from an empty Duomo Cathedral in Milan.
Lage says, whether worshiping at church or worshiping at home, her faith is her rock.
“My faith has always been an essential part of my life and more so now,” Lage says. “My faith removes the sense of doom. It puts perspective into things, especially now with Easter and the resurrection of Christ. God is our guide. Times like these help us to remember more that He is an essential part of our lives.”
Embracing the blessings
For David Drucker ‘18, staff writer in the Division of External Relations, Strategic Communications and Marketing, observing Passover virtually with his family was particularly comforting.
Drucker and his family came together this week to share two Seder meals – through Zoom.
“It’s something I really looked forward to,” Drucker says. “It just adds stability. In this era where there are so many unknowns, it’s nice to do these things [for Passover] that I’ve done many times and that Jewish people have done for thousands of years. Now more than ever, you look around and say, man, ‘Blessed to be alive today.’”
The new technological twist to the holiday brought an unexpected blessing. Drucker was able share the holiday with his mom’s side of the family, who live in New Jersey and are usually not in South Florida during Passover.
“Passover is a mindful holiday,” Drucker explains. “We’re mindful of our ancestors being slaves, the salt water, the tears and the things our people went through. It reminds me that through times like this, even though sports and gatherings have been taken away from us, there is still so much to be mindful of and so many blessings that I still have.”
Slowing down and praying
Social distancing particularly impacts communal worship. For Mohamed Ghumrawi, an international relations Ph.D. student and senior program coordinator for the Mohsin and Fauzia Jaffer Center for Muslim World Studies, this meant shifting from Friday afternoon communal prayers to completely individual prayers.
“I’ve been doing the five prayers at home. And I’ve really been trying to stay cognizant of the social distancing and not going to group areas,” he says.
With Ramadan starting later in April, Ghumrawi is wondering what the holiday might look like.
“I think it’s going to be very interesting,” he says. “There’s an emphasis on Ramadan and everyone praying together. Communal worship is an important factor. Having Iftar [dinner together] every night is such a critical component of Ramadan. I think it’s going to be a completely different story if we’re going to be doing virtual Iftars. We’ll see.”
These stay-at-home days are times to slow down, reflect and embrace spirituality, Ghumrawi says.
“There’s an aspect of letting God work this out,” he says. “We’re here in this situation. We’re doing the best we can. All we can do is just pray. Pray for our loved ones, pray for the world and let God work.”
Like many students, history major Thomas Kremer’s life has completely changed for the moment. Kremer is back home in Gainesville, half-way through a teaching internship he started in Miami, learning remotely and praying for his sister-in-law, who works at a local hospital.
With all the worries swirling around, he says there’s one comfort.
“I am finding solace in increasing my faith and going further into my prayer life," Kremer says. "Yeah, everything’s a mess now, but I know that God is good, and that whatever happens, I do know that Easter is coming soon. No matter how much sorrow, anxiety or negative emotion there might be, that’s always a holy day. I find hope in the fact that goodness is going to win.”
If you’re looking to connect with your spiritual communities on campus, check in with your student organizations to find out which virtual events are available. If you’re interested in meditation, you can check out a number of Zoom events on mindfulness meditation, meditative practices and live meditations.