The Spiritual Consequences of COVID-19

“But whenever good fortune alighted upon them, they would say, ‘This is [but] our due’; and whenever affliction befell them, they would blame their evil fortune on Moses and those who followed him. Oh, verily, their [evil] fortune had been decreed by God-but most of them knew it not” (Quran, 7:131).

“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter; Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). 

I took my grandmother to the grave of the man she lived with for over five decades. She wept, she read verses from Surah Yaseen, she spoke to his spirit, she marveled at the full glow of the moon as it cascaded light onto his tomb, she asked us to pray for forgiveness. She said it a couple of times emphatically.

She asked God to help our world from the plague he had sent… A virus has befallen our world. A global pandemic. A deviation from the normalcy we are used to. An inconvenience. A major impediment in the expectations we had for how our week, our month, year and even decade should have begun. 

The biblical quote above illustrates the foundation we must instantiate in our psyches and selves to contextualize any tragedy as part of a transcendent reality. But we desist. We are agitated. We are inconvenienced. We are annoyed. We cannot fit the abnormality of the situation into what we believe ought to happen. I am reminded of Surah Alaq (chapter 96):

No, but indeed, man transgresses because he sees himself self-sufficient.”

We act as autonomous agents in our day-to-day lives, some more than others. Locus of control or the ability to be in control despite extraneous or internal circumstances is actually a salient variable in predicting mental health and well-being. But a cautious level of humility must also be had.

There are many who cannot control the extraneous predilections and predicaments they are constrained in. Be it financial, family, societal, religious or communal. They do not have the free will to select in so many matters of fundamental importance; who they can become, what they can choose to do, what ‘luck of the draw’ they were handed. Yet they persist and reach beyond the threshold that was expected of them. They have shown a level of external locus of control.

For example; the child who is born to a single-parent household in a drug-infested neighborhood with minimal levels of opportunity to ascend any further; they are constrained to becoming what is expected of them. Yet time and time again the story of their lives is re-written. 

I have conducted therapy on dozens of children from these so-called ‘neighborhoods’. I remember one of those boys having a tough time fitting in; having numerous fights with other young boys, their childhoods being marked by a need to grow older, almost as if they needed to outpace the course of natural biology. One time, after we had connected over a few months, he asked in sincere vulnerability “how can I stop all this?” (pointing to the outside, to the world). I said “by controlling what’s in here” and pointed at his heart (yes it was my own cheesy movie moment).

That is called the internal locus of control. That despite all the complexities that we find ourselves in; situations of complete despair, moments of utter humiliation, relationships that are suffocating us, instants of fear and anxiety; we remain with a certain set of principles and level-headedness that elevate our positions. 

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“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.” – Bruce Lee

There is a global pandemic as we speak and no one is sure what will come out of it. There are those who are cautious. There are those who don’t know how they will pay their bills. There are those who are watching the stocks for an optimistic trade for financial gain (I am somewhat guilty of this). There are those who are hoarding hand sanitizers to sell for at exorbitant prices. Others go about the world as if nothing is even happening (look at the beaches of Florida when spring break occurred). Others as if the world is coming to an end. Others with complete poise, nobility, and compassion. 

I relay it to my grandmother, who spoke about the existential and spiritual contextualization of this virus (without consciously doing so). It is interesting being in this secular society. Everyone is speaking about the solution, how to fix it, how to help those who are in helpless situations, where the virus originated from, the biological, economic, social and health implications that this will mean for the world and the reverberations it will last on humanity. All of those are needed; but there is another level that is often unexplored. What spiritual implications does this have?

The fundamentalists are lauded as lunatics and wackjobs for calling this a plague from God, and I think the often abrasive and obnoxious way they relay the message, warrants that. But as I sat with my grandmother and she spoke about previous plagues that were hurled at prophets as tests for humanity; tests of their will and faith in God…I had goosebumps. It made sense. I can’t ever relay it in a pragmatic, intellectual manner to anyone. But from a transcendent, meaningful place of wisdom and growth; it makes sense. It has to. 

But whenever good fortune alighted upon them, they would say, ‘This is [but] our due’; and whenever affliction befell them, they would blame their evil fortune on Moses and those who followed him. Oh, verily, their [evil] fortune had been decreed by God-but most of them knew it not” (Quran, 7:131).

It’s a circle; the moments with the children I work with, the conversations with my spiritual self, the wisdom passed down from my grandmother, the tribulation I feel amidst my own lack of control, my inability to transmute my own spiritual growth, the COVID-19 virus, the sense of dread I and others feel on what this mean for humanity, the call to God. A circle of despair and senseless arrogance or a circle of regenerative hope, towards what we can become in our darkest times… A test from God. 

Here is an ‘Acceptance of the Present Moment’ meditation which I recorded through our University of Houston Mindfulness Lab. I hope it helps anyone who may need composure and reassurance in these turbulent times. Salaam. 

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