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  • Patricia Faust

Faith and Spirituality During COVID



I have written about grief, resilience, and chronic stress over the past few months. It would seem that we should be finished with all of the triggers that cause us to escalate our fear response. So, I started looking at a different perspective that would offer some insights on other ways people are getting through this crisis. Spirituality and faith-based beliefs and practices are making huge impacts on people’s emotional and psychological states.

We are experiencing 24/7 exposure to very serious news. This is wearing thin on all of us. While this pandemic is new in many ways for all of us, the feelings of fear and isolation are nothing new. Many of our religious and spiritual traditions have been poised to respond to times of crisis since time immemorial. Religion and belief are now seen by many researchers as an important way to cope with trauma and fear.

The Difference Between Religion and Spirituality

There is a difference between religion and spirituality. Overall, a person who is spiritual has developed their own set of beliefs and practices with their own connection to the Divine. Spirituality consists of finding core meaning of life, responding to meaning and being in a relationship with God. It provides a framework that guides individuals through painful and joyful events, often facilitating positive discoveries amid negative experiences.

Religion is an organized group with members that all subscribe to the same basic beliefs and rituals of that religion. Turning to one’s religion was mentioned most often ranking higher than any other coping mechanism.

As powerful as religion and spirituality are, acceptance of religion and spirituality in the research community as a coping strategy for trauma and crisis, has been weak. Dr. Kenneth Pargament, professor emeritus of psychology at Bowling Green State University, has been on the forefront of research on resilience and religion. He and his research colleagues continued to study the impact of religion on people’s mental health. Their research identified positive and negative forms of religious coping, as well as evidence that how people experience and express their faith has implications for their well-being and health. “People who made more use of positive religious coping methods had better outcomes than those who struggled with God, their faith or other people about sacred matters,” Pargament says.

Positive Aspects of Religion in Coping with Adversity

The research shows that religion can help people with adversity by:


· Encouraging them to reframe events through a hopeful lens. Positive reframing can help people transcend stressful times by enabling them to see a tragedy as an opportunity to grow closer to a higher power or improve their lives.


· Fostering a sense of connectedness. Some people see religion as making them part of something larger than themselves. This can happen through prayer or meditation, or through taking part in religious meetings, listening to spiritual music or even walking outside.


· Cultivating connection through rituals. Religious rituals and rites of passage can help people acknowledge that something momentous is taking place. These events often mark the beginning of something, as in the case with weddings, or the end of something, as in the case of funerals. They help guide and sustain people through life’s most difficult transitions.

(B. Goodman, May 11, 2020, Faith in a time of crisis)

Negative Religious Expressions

Religious beliefs may also undermine healing during stressful times.


· Feeling punished by God or feeling angry toward a higher being. Trauma and tragedy can challenge conceptions of God as all-loving and protective. As a result, some people struggle in their relationship with God and experience feelings of anger, abandonment, or being punished by a higher power.


· Putting it all “in God’s hands.” When people engage in “religious deferral,” they believe God is in charge of their well-being and may not take the necessary steps to protect themselves. One example of this deferral is church leaders who say Gog will protect their congregations as they hold church services in defiance of physical distancing guidelines aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19.


· Falling into moral struggles. People have difficulty squaring their behavior with their moral and spiritual values. For example – health care providers who are on the front lines of treating coronavirus patients may describe the anguish they feel as they are being forced to decide how to allocate limited life-sustaining resources, decisions that put them in the uncomfortable role of playing God.

(B. Goodman, May 11, 2020, Faith in a time of crisis)

The benefits of religion are open to everyone. There are many religious practices that are popular and are now used by non-believers. Yoga comes from Hinduism, and mindful meditation from Buddhism, yet agnostics, atheists, and people of all belief systems now take part in these traditions. Dr. Thomas Plante, a professor of psychology at Santa Clara University, has stated that “Religion has been helping people get through hard times for thousands of years. It’s tested and ready to go at a moment’s notice. Just read the psalms and you will see that it is all about people turning to God during troubled times.”

References:

Faith and Spirituality During Coronavirus. Retrieved from https://together.stjude.org/en-us/for-families/spirituality-and-faith/faith-spirituality-coronavirus.html

Goodman,B. (May 11, 2020). Faith in a time of crisis. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/print-this

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