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What Can Prayer Do for the Vulnerable During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

by Shirley Paulson, PhD

Barn next to a body of water, illustrating "Praying while Vulnerable"

Never in my life have I experienced a time when the whole world is calling from every corner: “you are vulnerable!” If you go anywhere, your health is vulnerable. If you don’t go somewhere, your job is vulnerable. If you try to escape, your mental health is vulnerable. And even worse, if you deny it, you’re making others even more vulnerable.

But somewhere in all this, I rebel.

Is God really unwilling or unable to help? Can “praying while vulnerable” actually help during a pandemic? Suffering and grieving are happening all over the world, and I can’t just pretend they are not there.

Images of hope and helplessness all jumbled together seem like a modern-day version of the ancient Christian text, The Thunder, Perfect Mind.  It tells us of a divine figure who appears to us differently from the God we may envision from the Bible. This God is not necessarily another God, but another view of God, and She usually identifies herself with feminine characteristics.

What’s most startling about Her is the way She can identify herself as both strong and vulnerable. If you’re like me the first time I read about this God, I wondered what good it would do to encounter a vulnerable deity. Especially if I wanted to escape vulnerability! How does that image affect my prayer? But listen further, and you may agree with me that this idea of God is a powerful antidote to vulnerability.

She tells us:

I was sent out from power
I came to those pondering me…
Be careful. Do not ignore me….
I am she who is honored and she who is mocked.
I am the whore and the holy woman. (1:1,4,5)

She comes from power, She is honored, and She is holy. But She is mocked, and She is “the whore.” What is She telling us, this “whore and holy woman?” How can She be so self-contradictory? How can a world struggling with a pandemic be so self-contradictory?

The whore is vulnerable. The holy woman is not. She is honored and She is mocked. In all her divinity, holiness, and honor, She is not above the world of those who struggle. She knows the suffering.

She starts to sound a bit like Jesus. His divinity didn’t prevent him from his humanity, where he knew the world of suffering. He himself was honored and mocked also.

This divine figure in The Thunder, Perfect Mind calls to us in our most vulnerable places:

And you appear to me
Wherever you hide yourselves, I myself will appear …
Receive me with understanding and heartache (3:17, 18).

It’s as if She knows about viruses who hide their secrets from the scientists. She knows the world of heartache. No one’s vulnerability is beyond Her experience. And She assures us that:

Those who do not participate in my presence, don’t know me
Those who share in my being know me (4:16).

It seems to me She is calling us to participate in the solutions She brings to earth.  This is a prayer in action. By knowing the life of a whore and the heartache of human suffering, is that precisely the place where we find the new idea?

We know now that we will never return to the way life was before the COVID-19 pandemic. But we don’t want to. We have learned too much to give it all away again. Our prayers attest to our willingness to move forward.  The newness of the situation shows us the way to new ideas.

Could it be that the world shake-up has given us a chance to re-group? Are our families more important than we realized before? Should we live without as many airplanes in the sky? Can we find better ways to give poor families better access to the information world on the internet? Can we break down bigotry, since we see how freely disease crosses racial, class, and national boundaries?

Could it be that the answers to our prayers lie right in the heart of the problem?

We have outgrown the old ways, and the ‘problem’ (whatever form of vulnerability we face) is forcing us to see the new ideas we may never have noticed before. When the ‘holy woman’ is a ‘whore,’ it means that the whore is free to discover the holy woman within. Whoever is mocked is discovering the honor due.

This is the divine being who finds us at every vulnerable spot. And She comes with power. But She reminds us that as long as anyone else is suffering from a virus, an economic hardship, or some other pain, we are not yet fully free ourselves. The solution for me is the solution for everyone. She will be there. She explains that “Those who share in my being know me,” and so we also participate in the work of renewal until we see that every ‘whore’ is truly a ‘holy woman.’ We realize our only security is the security that comes in response to the call for discovering our new world together.

The author of The Thunder, Perfect Mind concludes:

And they will find me in that place
They will live and they will not die again. (5:8)