As the holy days of various religions arrive this month, we are faced with unprecedented self-isolation. The traditional days and nights of family gatherings are forbidden or ill-advised and outright dangerous. Choosing life over potential death, we will celebrate online. Losing the social elements of holy days is a stupefying reality, but it's being addressed with creativity, determination and technology, by most, but not all.
For Christian denominations, Holy Week began with Palm Sunday but churches didn't hold Palm Sunday processions or conduct the washing of the feet rituals. A Seattle Episcopal dean advised parishioners to replicate some Holy Week rituals at home. "In this time of a pandemic, when we wash our hands, we're actually serving others by caring for them and wanting to keep them healthy, which is what Maundy [Holy] Thursday is about, the call into our servanthood, one with another."
For Muslims, the holy month of Ramadan is expected to begin in late April. After fasting during daylight hours, the usual visits to family members and friends for evening meals aren't possible. But a Muslim in Boston said, "I think there's such a huge potential for faith to play a really anchoring and positive role, to give people courage and strength, to give people hope and to give people a solution."
The Sikh annual gathering, Vaisakhi, falls in mid-April when Sikhs gather for religious services and often have processions singing hymns. According to a Sikh leader, major events are cancelled or postponed in accordance with city and state recommendations. "Sikhs will instead participate in prayer and reflection at home as well as online spaces created to bring communities together."
Many Hindus celebrate a nine-night festival that include rituals usually performed in Hindu temples and homes, especially on the final night, Rama Navami. While rituals and congregational singing won't be possible, according to a Minnesota Hindu leader, "... Hindus are utilizing technology to adapt worship in a pandemic."
Buddhists and Baha'is are also adjusting, as are Jews. Passover begins with the seder, a ritual-packed feast celebrated in homes and synagogues. When I was growing up on the 24 square miles of Bermuda, the Passover seder was the one time of the year that we all came together: family, tourists, military and embassy personnel. Although a Passover in isolation is unthinkable, Jewish organizations insist, "We are deeply sympathetic to this enormous difficulty. Nevertheless, public health demands strict adherence to the current guidance." A Florida Jewish leader advised, "It's a confusing and frightening time ... but the values that we abide by and the traditions we abide by are still important and they challenge us to be creative and energetic."
Despite the creativity and humanity demonstrated by so many, some faithful followers are put at risk. Why are religious leaders insisting on holding services that endanger good people? When placing lives in God's hands, isn't there a responsibility for community safe-keeping?
And some religious leaders are playing the blame game: COVID-19 is the fault of transgender children, gays and gay activists, Asian Americans. Centuries-old conspiracy theories blaming Jews re-surfaced. Rick Wiles, banned from YouTube but with White House media credentials, says, "God's dealing with false religions... He's dealing with the forces of Antichrist."
Federal agencies now warn of extremist attacks on Jews and Asians during holy days. Centuries ago, a Londoner wrote, "The plague makes us cruel, as dogs, to one another." Let's not go there. Surely we can celebrate holy days by being our highest selves and pray together for peace, God's most precious gift.
Contact Deborah Levine, an author, trainer/coach and editor of the American Diversity Report, at email@example.com.