Sincerely, I don’t like the debate. But I have to participate. It’s all because of a barrage of questions and info that came my way. I can’t help sharing it. In my mother tongue, it is said: “Mungu mbela; n’agawe otaileo.” Translated very crudely, it means: “God help me; plus your effort.”
From the UK, a son-in-law sends a WhatsApp message: “Tonight at 8 p.m. the Pope summons the whole world, wherever one is, whatever one’s faith or lack of faith, to take a moment of meditation for the health of the world.
“The whole planet is in prayer. If you can, please forward that so that we can unite in an urgent prayer, a chain of prayer for the world. Pass this message to your contacts, we were asked to pray, pass it on.”
A friend in Dar es Salaam sends me a Newsweek link. It’s about the same topic. Scholar, professor, global speaker and media contributor Dr Craig Considine refers to Prophet Muhammad “hadiths” including one about a Bedouin man whom he (the Prophet) told: Tie your camel first, and then put your trust in God.” The Prophet had earlier stopped him to question his decision to leave the camel untied. The man had responded: “I put my trust in God.”
Dr Craig Considine pointed out that what the Prophet did was simply to encourage people to seek guidance in their religion, but he hoped they take basic precautionary measures, for the stability, safety and well-being of all.”
My parish association of lay Catholic men, UWAKA, does not spare me. I get a dossier about instructions from the Tanzania Episcopal Conference (TEC) in the wake of the Corona virus pandemic.
The first thing the bishops do (of course) is call on all believers to say a special prayer seeking God’s protection against and safety from the virus. I take note of the level of their well informed approach, drawing the line between bio-security and bio-safety. Bio-security deals with protection of humans and the environment from intentional releases of pathogens and bio-hazards, while bio-safety simply refers to (safety from) unintentional release.
But then, immediately thereafter, TEC goes straight into spelling precautionary measures that should be taken to prevent the spread of the virus and particularly at this point in time when the season of Lent is coming to an end giving way to Easter celebrations, including the believer-pulling Holy Week liturgy activities.
So, TEC suspends all lay associations’ meetings, orders confessions to be conducted in the open, weekly grassroots community prayers to be attended by only those feeling well and everybody to use their own books; no borrowing or sharing. Priests are highly recommended to attend patients in hospitals most preferably accompanied by professional medical experts. Holy Friday kissing of the crucifix is out. Believers will only bow in respect. Those counting church dues are to wear gloves.
A day earlier, through our Family Mbagala Mission WhatsAppchat group, crossing continents, I receive “a Corona virus prayer”. It is from the United States. It is a long one but serves the day perfectly. I cannot run it all here. The purpose of this write up is not to pray.
It pleads with Jesus Christ who “traveled through towns and villages, healing every disease and illnesses.. .” It invites him to come “to our aid now in the midst of a global spread of the corona virus that we may experience your healing love.
“Heal those who are sick with the virus. May they regain their strength and health through quality…care. Heal us from our fear which prevents nations from working together and neighbours from helping one another.
“Heal us from our pride which can make us claim invulnerability to a disease that knows no borders….Healer of all, stay by our side in this time of uncertainty and sorrow. Be with those who have died from the virus… Be with the families of those who are sick or have died. As they worry in grief, defend them from illness and despair…
“Be with the doctors, nurses, researchers and all medical professionals who seek to heal and help those infected and who put themselves at risk in the process.
“Be with the leaders of our nations give them the foresight to act for charity and true concern for the wellbeing of the people they are meant to serve. Give them wisdom to invest in long-term solutions… that will help them … prevent future outbreaks…”
The above stated scenarios have something in common. They perceive and accept a health problem. They appreciate the strength of prayer. They also emphasize relevant contributions of humans, in their various capacities as leaders, professionals or simply community members.
Finally, they lay emphasis on specific steps that must be taken. The need for openness and quick communication at all levels sticks out its neck. The Mission Mbagala Family group, for example, is co-coordinated from Tanzania. I learn about two Corona virus toll free call numbers –08001 110124 and 0800110125–from the US. With raised eyebrows I ask: “How come I get it from New York.” Response: “It is sent to us, if you are Diaspora registered. This number you can ring anytime and from anywhere even if your phone account is dry.”
Wow. How do I register myself as Diaspora in my own country for ease of access to information when even getting a national ID is a nightmare? My mind jumps to George Orwell’s “all animals are equal but some are more equal than others.”
My friend’s question still lingers in my mind: “Can the power of prayer alone stop a pandemic?” Could this be faith rather than a question of faith? If it is faith, then I have to go to the books for an answer – not use my feelings.
But where do I go in the books? I cannot even pretend to be a lazy reader. My last interview with the leader of Dar es Salaam-based Kilimanjaro Dialogue Institute (KDI) Secretary General, Alhaj Hassan Mzighani, to the just ended one-week 47th International Conference for Dialogue between Jews, Christians and Muslims held in Vallender, Germany, came to my rescue. The theme of the conference was “Religious Responses to Terror and Trauma”.
He told me the conference had chance to listen to three key presentations on the topic. One presentation was by Rabbi Benji Stanley giving his experience with a family that had just lost their loved two members, aged 15 and 19, in the Sri Lanka attacks.
Just in case you feel like I am going off the line, hold your breath. The Sri Lanka attacks that killed many people and left others injured, can be likened to a faith/social corona virus. He revisited the Torah citing Rabbi Chanina asking sick Rabbi Yochanan: “Give me your hand.” He did and was restored. A prisoner cannot release himself from prison.
Rabbi Yochanan himself visited bereaved Rabbi Eliezer who told him: “I am weeping on account of this beauty that is going to rot in the earth.” They both wept. This shows the value of being with one in distress… allowing them to feel sad…allowing them to feel something else. This is prayer with power.
Out of compassion for her master, a young Jewish woman working as a slave-girl, pleaded with Naaman to seek Prophet Elisha healings for his leprosy. Naaman is said to have been indignant at first. But he eventually did so. And do you know what Elisha instructed him to do? It was to bathe seven times in the Jordan River. He did and he was immediately restored in body and spirit.
Those who have read the gospel according to St. Luke, himself a physician, will remember the story of the ten lepers said to have come to Jesus for cure. Jesus received their prayer. But he gave them the condition of showing themselves up to the priests. On their way, they noticed that their health had been restored. Only one of them came back to say thank you. But that is not the point at issue here. Cure is, not gratitude.
Naaman went to Elisha and had to bathe seven times in the Jordan. The lepers went to Jesus and were cured. The question of reporting to the priests was for certification for rejoining their communities. Otherwise they lived in seclusion from the healthy people.
So, can the power of prayer alone stop a pandemic? My opinion is: “No.” Beneficiaries still have a complementary role to play. I am a living example. For about four years my vision was no more. I and my family prayed very hard. We sought the intercession of Sr. Bernadeta Mbawala of Chipole St. Agnes and St. Anthony of Padua, my password.
But I had still got to see eye specialists around the globe and adhere to their instructions. When I regained my vision, to many it was a miracle. The doctors told me: “Thank God. We never knew it could have taken such a short time. This is goes beyond our knowledge power.”
Can the power of prayer alone cure a disease? That is the question. So, for the Corona virus, prayer is very important, but not the only response.