Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Embracing Spirituality in the Face of the Corona Pandemic

A pandemic has spread across the globe. It is beyond what we can fathom and all too real to forget. This week we celebrate the Passover Holidays, Holy Week and Easter. Maybe that’s a good thing. Frankly, we can use all the help we can get.

We have seen throughout history and across cultures that spirituality and religion play a role in coping with fear, terror, illness and unspeakable loss.

Spirituality is the personal sense or search for the sacred. For some, it is a belief in God, some Absolute Unity, something beyond what can be known.

Spirituality can be fostered by organized religion but a person can change religions, or not align with a religion and still be spiritual.

Religiosity is defined as commitment to the beliefs and practices recognized by a specific organized sacred institution that involves rituals, beliefs and practices upheld by a community of believers.

What Prompts Us To Access Spirituality Or Turn To Religion In The Face Of Trauma?

At the moment of trauma, we are rendered helpless by overwhelming force.

In the face of war, terrorism or natural disaster and the pandemic we face, everything that is familiar to us – our sense of mastery, safety, control, self-reflection, cognition, time, interpersonal trust, freedom,  world view – is called into question.

At these times we reach for something beyond us to make meaning, to protest, to find solace, to go on, to hope… we look for God when we find ourselves in unsafe places.

Never Alone – A Buffer to Isolation and Despair

Some view spirituality as primarily relational. It is a transcendent relationship with that which is sacred (Walsh, 2000). Turning to belief in God or a higher power in the face of trauma, loss or suffering reduces the isolation endemic to trauma. No matter where you are you have the feeling that you are never alone.

The Power of Prayer

Prayer has been called “the native language” of the soul, the universal expression of an innate human desire to make contact with the divine.

(Sheler, 2005, U.S. News & World Report)

Prayer as a response to fear, terror, uncertainty and traumatic loss, be it formal, guided or just speaking to a higher power, is much like loving kindness meditation, mindfulness and similar practices in reducing the stress response.

When someone stops what they are doing to pray, they have turned their focus away from the world and the worry of what will happen to seek help from the divine.  They are in the moment. You are not ruminating, worrying and turning up your stress response when you are focused on prayer.

For many a belief in a loving God means they can let go and “ Let God.” For them their spirituality affords a way of surrendering control when they feel hopeless and helpless.

For so many, prayer is a way to give thanks for the dedicated frontline medical workers, uniformed services and others who day by day leave their loved ones to risk the virus to help our loved ones. As one woman said,

“ I feel gratitude and helplessness – I just keep praying for them.”

A Community of Believers

Given that trauma turns on our fight/flight reactions, an important benefit of feeling connection with God and a spiritual community ( even if not sitting with them)  is a common belief system. The familiarity of   spiritual caregivers, rituals, prayers, and service affords an emotional connection which helps re-set body rhythms and soothes terror and grief.

Religious Holidays and Family Connections

This year Passover and Easter and the observed practices will largely we celebrated creatively with those living with us and family networks and services we will access with online platforms. The very effort to maintain religious and holiday rituals, sharing them with old and young is a buffer to the disruption, terror and loss caused by this pandemic. Religious holidays are the cultural and religious gifts we share. They are  opportunities to remember and connect with those present and those remembered with Nana’s recipe and Dad’s favorite story.

Families rituals are an opportunity to foster intergenerational resilience.

Spirituality as a Support to Mourning and Grieving

Worldwide 1.1 million people have died from the Corona Virus. The conditions have been difficult to contemplate and emotionally traumatic for those who have lost loved ones.

In some ways, like the painful loss experienced after 9/11, we are once again deprived of the religious and cultural rituals of burial and mourning that ease traumatic loss. For now, many will draw upon prayer and a spiritual connection to seek strength to bear the loss, to pray for loved ones, to find a way.

Many others, with or without a shared religious belief, will connect through love, online words, silent prayers and thoughts, to memorialize  lost loved one with dignity and respect.

The relational definition of grieving is the action of holding one in one’s heart an enduring presence of a loved one. It is does not mean forgetting. It means remembering in a way that exists beyond what is happening in the concrete world.

The Wall Street Journal  reports that in the next 7 days the Corona Virus will peak in New York, Detroit, New Orleans and surrounding areas. We will face one day at a time. We will social distance, self-quarantine if sick, wear gloves, use sanitizer, wear any type of mask outdoors to stop the spread- yes- one person at a time, and if we can…

We will embrace Passover and Easter as gifts of Hope


Wishing You a Safe and Blessed Holiday –Suzanne