During COVID-19, we witnessed the bringing together of families and communities – local and global became one – through online technology. And in the face of blame-laying, unprepared governments and political failure, what people started to do together … was to sing.
‘Dear Class of 2020’ was an hours-long event featuring leaders, celebrities and music artists in celebration of students whose commencement ceremonies were canceled due to COVID-19. Michelle and Barack Obama and Lady Gaga spoke and performed. On Easter Day, Andrea Bocelli stood alone in Milan, singing ‘Music for Hope – a live-streamed concert that echoed around the world from the empty cathedral.
Are these prayers? You bet they are. Prayers, inherently, are the totality of human truth. Prayers are experiential. They expose the soul. In the classic ‘Les Miserables’, the main character Jean Valjean sings a prayer for the safe return of Marius, whom his adoptive daughter Cosette loves. U2 based its 1983 song ’40’, a song of thanksgiving, on Psalm 40 found in the Old Testament. Michael Jackson’s 1992 ‘Heal the World’ was the song he said he “was most proud to have created.” Prayers of joy always start with giving thanks.
The journey into joyfulness is both ancient and current, and belongs to everyone. Ancient Egyptians believed that upon death they would be asked two questions and their answers would determine whether they could continue their journey in the afterlife. The first question was ‘Did you bring joy?’ The second was, ‘Did you find joy?’ Inherent in this choice is the need for change, for evolution, for a bettering of our circumstances. We are at a fork in the road for moving forward intentionally. A person’s every single movement should not be dictated by automatic responses. Life is changing for the collective and this is not a time for guarantees. Things will not go exactly as we plan or dictate. Now, as we find ourselves in an intangible experience lacking any predicable conclusions, we have no choice but to be experiential.
Ultimately, how we travel inwardly is the same as how we travel outwardly. There comes a day when it is time to start watching our thoughts and seeing what is in the heart. When people in the West speak of the heart, they usually mean the emotions and affections, but the heart has a far wider connotation. The heart guides us actively toward seeing what needs to be released, surrendered, completed, forgiven, and cherished. We have to renounce our first enemy—anger. Anger in the heart is anger in the body.
Throughout the COVID pandemic, we have been graced by countless beautiful, simple actions that are essential to life. They are living prayers. In the context of an unfinished global narrative – a world without tidy conclusions or predictability – we have to rely on each other, learning new kinds of actions in real time and in relation to our own experiences. Reaching for tenderness rather than bitterness is a beautiful activity of sustentation: the careful maintenance and protection of something valuable, especially in its natural or original state.
In every generation, we have a new opportunity for a greater reality. Each human being can have a higher reach: Seeking to celebrate change and overcome hate, by delivering from ourselves the idea that nothing is impossible, we create the conditions for a culture of joy and unity.