Sheltering the Spirit During COVID-19

By Ameena Jandali, ING Content Manager, Henry Millstein, Content Manager and Program Analyst, and Bat Sheva Miller, ING Speaker.

The coronavirus is taking a toll not only on Americans’ bodies but also on their minds and spirits. A recent study revealed that alcohol and cannabis sales are soaring, along with TV binge-watching and online gaming. Americans clearly need healthier ways to face the isolation of sheltering in place; they need shelter for their spirits. To help people utilize faith as a source of comfort and support during this difficult time, Islamic Networks Group (ING) held a three-part series of webinars with representatives from the five major world faiths speaking about Spirituality in a Time of Crisis, which you can access here.

In the meantime, while houses of worship are shuttered, we need to turn our homes into sacred spaces.

All major religious traditions have resources for this. All value family ties, and the current lockdown offers opportunity to spend quality time with family. And each faith has specific practices and resources that can turn living spaces into places to encounter the Divine. Below, each of us—a Christian, a Jew, and a Muslim—reflects on how our traditions can shelter our spirits.

Henry Millstein: The Roman Catholic tradition of Christianity that I adhere to provides the Liturgy of the Hours that features prayers for morning, various times during the day, evening, and bedtime, so that the whole day can be sanctified. These prayers, built around the praying or singing of the Psalms, are coordinated with the readings and observances of the mass for each day, so that by praying the hours I can still connect with the mass—the central worship of Catholic Christianity. And when I pray the hours, even if I’m by myself, I’m joining fellow Catholics around the world who are praying the same prayers. I’m not alone.

Of course, there are other resources that Christian traditions provide, including bible study and various forms of meditative prayer. My wife is a Methodist pastor; she keeps her flock together not only with online services every Sunday but also with online bible studies and even an online coffee hour. Zoom allows us to see one another’s faces, and I feel us all growing closer and connecting more deeply than in the “regular” coffee hours where we too easily take one another’s presence for granted. Easter, the holiest day of the Christian year, is coming. But I won’t be alone or lonely. I’ll have both my wife and daughter around the Easter table and my sisters and brothers in Christ meeting face-to-face online.

Bat Sheva Miller: The home occupies an important place in Jewish tradition. The intentionality Judaism accords to each aspect of our lives, be it through prayer, blessing, or the observance of calendric cycles, can almost fully be experienced at home. And yet, each one of these elements almost as fully expects the presence of another person. While we can fulfill the obligation of praying three times a day on our own, Judaism instructs us to do so in the company of at least ten people. Joy and chagrin invite the presence of a community.

Judaism speaks of different kinds of mitzvot (commandments). Those between people and God (Bein Adam L’Makom), those between people (Bein Adam l’Chavero), and those between person and self (Bein Adam L’Atzmo). Prayer is an example of the first kind of mitzvah. Mitzvot such as visiting the sick or welcoming guests fall in the second category. COVID-19 has forced us to adapt our performance of these mitzvot. While we are not able to step into physical communal spaces, baby namings, shiva calls, Havdalah ceremonies (at the end of Shabbat), prayer and Torah studies continue virtually, because of community. Home has not replaced the synagogue. It is its fractal. Now, we are called to pay further attention to the mitzvot between a person and self. As we extend our awareness of our relationship with God and our neighbors, we also look within. On the eve of Passover, we reassess our relationships with the world, each other, and God. We strive to transform ourselves. Pesach reminds us that there is a process involved in achieving freedom, from sanctification to fulfillment of one’s potential.

Ameena Jandali: For Muslims, it has been painful to miss the Friday congregational prayers. Nonetheless, Muslim prayer is at its core an individual act between the worshipper and God. Muslims consider the entire earth as a place where we can perform our five daily prayers, and most Muslims already perform some or most of their prayers at home or at work. With the quarantine, our home has now become literally our mosque. With extra time on our hands, we can perform our prayers with greater sincerity, focus, and meaning.

Muslims are fast approaching the holy month of Ramadan, an annual opportunity to rededicate ourselves to God through fasting, increased reading of Qur’an, voluntary prayers, remembrance of God, and repentance. This year, as we observe Ramadan in isolation from the mosque and other Muslims, we have a unique opportunity to focus more deeply on Ramadan’s spirit without being distracted by fast-breaking parties and events. We will have the opportunity to focus our free time on spirituality rather than socializing. Ihtikaf, the tradition of spending the last ten days of Ramadan in the mosque in prayer and Qur’an reading, will now take place in our homes throughout the entire month. This year we have the opportunity to taste the sweetness of a Ramadan that is truly focused on worship and God.

Authors are member of the staff (Ameena and Henry) and volunteer pool (BatSheva) of Islamic Networks Group (ING) (, a national peace-building organization providing face-to-face education and engagement opportunities that foster understanding of Muslims and other misunderstood groups to promote harmony among all people.