Communal Prayer: Force of Resistance
Social distancing: the most widely spoken phrase since the pandemic began in 2020–the primary preventive for stopping the spread of the virus–the practice of keeping six-feet distance. Though I am in sympathy with its aims and understand its meaning, the term does not seem self-explanatory. “Physical distancing” might have been the more accurate phrase to give to the world. Entering YDS at the height of the pandemic, I have learned that physical distancing is critical to sustaining personal health and community wellbeing, but so is something else: social bonding, radical and resilient social bonding.
It has been a great joy to see prayers answered in this wounded world.
Starting my journey at YDS in Fall 2020, in the middle of the Covid crisis, did not make it easy to find a sense of belonging. Virtual classes and Zoom meetings demanded that I adapt to a new way of building connections to others. The lack of bodily presence always made virtual gathering an insufficient experience to me. Zoom fatigue and pandemic unpredictability added to the frustration. I felt I belonged at the school, but at the same time real belonging week to week was a genuine struggle. Gratefully, I discovered I didn’t have to struggle alone. Despite the necessity of physical distancing, I found a powerful social bond with others—in prayer.
The Breath of God
Throughout this global health emergency, and following school protocols, the Evangelical Fellowship student group at YDS held a weekly Zoom gathering. Usually half a dozen of us or more shared our daily personal and academic struggles. We gathered sighs of frustration and anxiety and released them through our silent and spoken prayers. We shared prayer requests and lifted them up to God. We brought out songs of praise where we put our hearts into the lyrics and sang out our confessions. The Scripture readings taught and confirmed the life-giving breath of God flowing through words. By these practices we created an intimate space, I soon found hope stirring within my heart.
The accumulated fatigue of the pandemic continued to bear down on everyone. It intensified the pain and suffering that were happening around us, stresses unrelated to Covid. Some tragic losses to the Yale community in my first year were especially challenging to absorb. Losing a beloved friend from school and church to a homicide in February 2021 was especially difficult for me to endure. I needed a space to release my sorrow and mourn the loss. The Evangelical Fellowship’s prayer meetings provided a space for me to wrestle with my emotions and—despite these shocks—find a vision of life in the presence of these brothers and sisters in Christ. Our commitment to be present to each other bonded our hearts together, even in virtual space; we called each other’s names in our prayers. Deepening the bond was the extended invitation to share prayer requests collected from families, friends, and neighbors who were going through their own season of hardships.
Witness to Hope
When the School reopened to in-person classes in my second year, the Fellowship meetings began gathering outdoors at the Labyrinth, located at the back of the YDS Quadrangle. Maintaining physical distancing, we sat in a circle to pray. One thing that stood out to the group in the second year was the brokenness within the larger YDS community: ongoing internal conflicts around persistent issues of racism and struggles to achieve high academic performance. We gathered prayers for the School and the broader Yale campus. Praying was an act of harvesting hope and resisting division. We prayed for resilience and courage for students and faculties. We prayed that all would fully cherish this life and flourish in it.
I believe prayer is a force of resistance that raises hope by naming injustice and suffering. Prayer is not a passive act that merely wishes for dramatic change and breakthrough but is a stronghold that gathers hearts and instills wonder, clarifying how we can renavigate our way of being and living through the bewilderments of life. By constant remembrance of people’s suffering and struggles against prejudice and hardship, my experience in the prayer meetings has been to receive an invitation to seek and witness hope.
It has been a great joy to see prayers answered in this wounded world. Even though the pandemic’s uncertainties are still with us, I believe communal prayer can provide the social bonding we need. It has been a blessing for me to be able to pray on this part of the Earth where YDS stands. May the fire of prayer continue to burn for the community so that anyone who is called to this land knows: someone is praying for you. In the name of Jesus, I pray. Maranatha, Amen.
EunYoung Choi will graduate in May with a M.A.R. degree concentrating in religion and ecology. She will start a doctorate program at Boston University School of Theology this fall.