How Faith & Philosophy Can Help Us Through the Pandemic | New Hampshire Public Radio

How Faith & Philosophy Can Help Us Through the Pandemic

Apr 12, 2020

Whether you’re religious or not, Spring is a time of rebirth. We talk with faith leaders and philosophers about how they find resilience and connection while facing the grief and loss of this time. Let us know how you have been celebrating your faith, exploring spirituality or simply finding strength during this pandemic.

Airdate: Monday, April 13, 2010

GUESTS:

NHPR's Daniela Allee reported on how different faiths were celebrating this year.

The Valley News highlighted Susannah Heschel's seder amid social distancing.

Transcript

 This transcript is machine-generated and contains errors.

Laura Knoy: 

From New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Laura Knoy and this is The Exchange. How do we interpret the annual promise of spring amid unprecedented anxiety? It's a question many of us find ourselves pondering this April. Worried about our health, our loved ones, our finances, and then noticing a newly opened patch of daffodils. And for those Granite Staters who connect with an organized faith, these feelings may be especially prominent recently with this month's major religious holidays celebrating freedom, rebirth and a deeper connection with God. Today, an Exchange religious thinkers on how they're navigating these times and what they draw upon to find strength. Let's hear from you, Exchange listeners, whatever your faith tradition, including no organized faith at all. How are you sorting out what's happening and what wisdom are you finding?

Laura Knoy:
Our guests are Martin Marklin of Marklin Liturgical Candles in Contoocook. He's pursued theological studies at Notre Dame and Catholic Theological Union. He joins us by Skype. Also with us, Susannah Heschel. She's a professor of Jewish studies at Dartmouth College. And she also joins us by Skype. And Sheraz Rashid, he's on the board of the Islamic Center of New Hampshire. And as all of you know, religious texts have much to say about human suffering and fear. I want to hear from everybody. But Susannah, you first, please. What fundamental Jewish concepts are you turning to to help you and others make sense of all this chaos?

Susannah Heschel:
Well, it's very striking that the peak of this crisis is coming at the same time as Passover and for Christians, Easter and pretty soon the start of Ramadan. So Passover is interesting as a connection because at the Passover Seder, we remember both liberation and also slavery. And we're reminded in the course of the Haggadah reading the story of Passover that we have to remember that we were ourselves. Each one of us slaves in Egypt. And that reminder is all the stronger today with what's going on in this terrible situation of the Coronavirus.

Laura Knoy:
You had written something, Susannah, about sort of, OK, so they escaped from Egypt and that's wonderful. But then they're wandering in the desert for a long, long time before things get better. Just reflect on that as well. That part of the story. Susannah.

Susannah Heschel:
Yeah, so it's very striking that all other we're were freed from Egyptian slavery. The freedom doesn't come all all at once. There's there's an outburst of singing. But then immediately the children of Israel, the Bible tells us, want to go back to Egypt. They miss the food of Egypt. So we have a tendency to forget. I think one of the things we need to do right now is also to prepare for the future. So as we struggle through this difficult time, how will we feel once we have a vaccine, once we have a cure? Once the pandemic is over, how will we experience this and and cope with it? The children of Israel had to wander for 40 years in the wilderness before they could enter the promised land. So what is our wilderness going to be in response to this pandemic and where will we end up?

Laura Knoy:
And Sheraz, how about you? What are the writings of the Qur’an help you work through this time? What are you finding yourself returning to again and again?

Sheraz Rashid:
So, you know, obviously in Islam, Allah or God tells us in the Qur’an many times that he will test you and he will test you with poverty. We will test you with death. He will test you with fitness. And when God says he tests you, because he tests you so that you can attain closeness to him, so you can attain righteousness. And one of the most profound verses in the Qur’an that, Muslims are turning to where God says in Arabic: (Arabic) That indeed in the remembrance of God does the heart find rest. And a lot of Muslims from all around the area are now turning back to their faith, reading or reciting it, listening to its meaning, understanding it. And that provides a lot of solace to people during this difficult time.

Laura Knoy:
Now, it's interesting what you said. So a lot of Muslims you said, are returning to the Qur’an, sort of opening it again and looking for passages for help.

Sheraz Rashid:
Yes, absolutely. And one of the things that, you know, we have in Islam, especially as Ramadan is approaching, is. And I think Laura you coined the term CNE Christians. It's Christmas and Easter Christians, and one of the things we have as Muslims. We have Ramadan Muslims. And Ramadan Muslims are people whom you may not see during the mosque you the entire year, but they show up during Ramadan.

Sheraz Rashid:
And even those individuals who don't read the Qur’an often, they're coming back to their attention to it because they're looking for that sort of peace, that sort of security, that, OK, the almighty dollar doesn't matter anymore. It's my foothold, my faith that's going to hold me and ground me. I think a lot of people are realizing that and turning back to it.

Laura Knoy:
Martin, yesterday you celebrated Easter before that. Good Friday. How did you hear and feel the Easter liturgy this year, Martin?

Martin Marklin:
Well, you know, as Christians, and particularly Roman Catholics, we are in the midst of the 40 days or the fast from Lent and the great 50 days, which takes us from Easter to Pentecost. And the Easter Vigil service is all about light and it's light dispelling the darkness of the night. And I think as a liturgical candle maker, my family and I, we send candles around the world. And they're all celebrated on this one night that the light might join the stars of heaven and dispel the darkness of the night. And I think for Christians, Easter is a celebration of life over death and resurrection in a sense of hope.

Laura Knoy:
Well, picking up on something that Sheraz said, you know, more people, even those Muslims who really only go to the mosque during Ramadan, and Sheraz and I were joking last week about what we call CNI Christians, you know, Christmas and Easter Christians. But you told me, Martin, when we talked earlier, that more people were buying your liturgical candles because they couldn't go to church. I was asking you, gee, are your sales down because people aren't going to church services because they're not able to? And you said no. In fact, we're selling a lot of liturgical candles.

Martin Marklin:
We are in this sort of shifted from churches to the home to the individual persons, because I think, you know, we all whether we are members of an organized faith or not, we're all trying to make sense out of the senseless, give some meaning to the meaningless. And for many, we may turn to our faith as a source of solace and answers. And I think people are trying to find sacred spaces in their home in which they can celebrate as a family and keep these holy days. So we're finding a resurgence of people. You know, in the early Christian church before we had cathedrals and an organized churches. People would celebrate the domas ecclesia, the home church. And that was the beginning of the Christian church. And so I think there's there's almost a return to that where people were trying to navigate a way on which how they can keep these holy days, holy in their family, in their own home. And I think lighting candles is a big part of that.

Laura Knoy:
And this hour, where Granite Staters are finding strength this spring among all the anxiety. Our guests are spiritual thinkers and philosophers who've been looking at the texts of their own faiths for guidance. Let's go right to our listeners. Lisa in West Dummerston, Vermont is calling in. Hi, you're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
I'm inviting anyone to read a book. I know the book is in the Keene Library and the Concord Library and it's called The Baha'u'llah and the New Era. It's about the Baha'i faith.

Laura Knoy:
And can you briefly tell us what the Baha'i faith is, Lisa, for those who are not familiar, and why you think that might be helpful.

Caller:
It's a modern religion. It's only 200 years old. So we believe in Jesus and Mohammed and all the prophets going way back to Moses, Buddha and all of them. So it's like the latest chapter in a book. So the Baha'i faith is the latest word from God. We feel as Baha'is.

Laura Knoy:
Lisa, it's really good to hear from you and to put another faith into our conversation today. Susannah, what do you think? I'm sort of struck by what she says, that all these faith traditions are included in this book. It strikes me as a spiritual seeking that people are doing right now, no matter what their you know, what tradition they might have grown up in. What do you think, Susannah?

Susannah Heschel:
Yes. I think there is a lot of spiritual seeking. And I'm struck by some of the similarities and differences between Judaism and what Sheraz and Martin just spoke about. So Martin mentioned that early Christians gathered in homes that were home churches, Of course, in Judaism. We remain very much centered in the home. So Passover is celebrated at home, not in a synagogue. And that made it many ways easier for Jews this year since synagogues are closed. And Sheraz mentioned that God will test you. I think there's an interesting passage actually in the Talmud, the book of Jewish law that talks about the difference between a famine and a plague. In a famine, the Talmud says leave your home and go and find food wherever you can. But when there's a plague, stay in your house and don't go out. Why? Because a plague comes from the angel of death, not from God and the angel of death, the Talmud says, doesn't know the difference between a good person and a wicked person. So, in fact, a plague is not understood as a test from God or is something that only afflicts people who are not religious, let's say, or people who are wicked. It comes from something very different and any one is vulnerable. All of us are vulnerable to a plague. The Talmud says to stay in your home, lock the door. Just as the children of Israel in the Bible had to stay home and lock the door the night before the exodus.

Laura Knoy:
That's kind of profound to hear you say that same advice from thousands of years ago, Susannah, that we're hearing today.

Susannah Heschel:
Isn't it interesting? Yes, because plagues have been with us for a very long time. And religious people have struggled for a long time to understand. Is this a religious act from God? That's a punishment? Or is this some kind of natural disaster? And of course, philosophers of religion like to make a distinction between a natural disaster and natural evil, like an earthquake or a tornado. And a moral evil when somebody commits an act of robbery or murder. But I think what we're seeing today in the United States with a high rate of infection among African-Americans and high rate of death among African-Americans, is that, in fact, the so-called natural evil of a plague is mediated by the social evil of inadequate health care, inadequate housing, racism, bringing about greater death of black people. That's an outrage.

Laura Knoy:
So there's less clarity, Susannah, between this moral evil versus natural evil, you're saying this plague, if we could call it that, kind of brings both of those concepts together in a very confusing and profound way.

Susannah Heschel:
Yes. And so we have to ask, is the death from this COVID-COVID-19, due to some kind of natural disorder in the universe, or is it because we have a social evil, an unfair society that we've created and it's our fault and our responsibility, not God's?

Laura Knoy:
Wow. Sheraz, what do you think? How are you sorting through what Susannah is saying?

Sheraz Rashid:
You know, one of the things Susannah mentioned about the similarities in terms of, you know, how Muslims and even other faiths are seeking solace within their faith to get through this. What's amazing is Susannah mentioned a verse in their holy scripture with regards as to how to handle the plague. Or how to handle a plague, you know, from God's order. And one of the things, as Muslims, we have a saying almost like a code or a procedure, if you will, from the Prophet Mohammed: May the peace and blessing of Allah be upon him. One of the things that Mohammed had said to his followers, he said that if a plague, if an outbreak or a plague were to enter or come to a land, do not enter that land. And then he said that if you are in that land, do not leave, quarantine yourself. And then he said that those who are contagious, those who had the disease, should be kept away from the healthy. So if you look at all of the procedures and things that were following in this country today, it's almost bad advice. This is nearly verbatim to what we're following today.

Sheraz Rashid:
And also another interesting point to what Susannah mentioned with regards to the test and seeing it from the angel of death. I do agree. I think there are a lot of social issues that we as human beings have inflicted upon ourselves, a lot of, if you will, evil. But we sort of instituted around the world, even in here in our own backyard. And obviously, that is another test, another sort of ordeal that we as people have to deal with. But one of the things that we as Muslims are not forgetting is that even though we're not able to meet Friday for our Friday weeky prayer, congregational prayer, we are able to pray five times a day within our home. And the fact that you're able to turn back to God means that his mercy is there. His mercy is there for you to take. And that's one of the things I think a lot of Muslims are realizing that hey, as long as I'm healthy and I can still pray, then God is still giving me a chance and I'm still able to turn back to him and seek solace.

Laura Knoy:
Oh, that's interesting. Yeah. And Martin, to you, you mentioned, you know, more people getting liturgical candles, sort of going back to the early Christians with this home church that you mentioned. How are you, what do you think about what Sheraz says? That, you know, people can at least pray from home? For Christians, it seems it's more, these days anyway, about going to that church. So how does being able to pray from home, maybe in front of a candle, sort of change the way people celebrate Christianity?

Martin Marklin:
Well, I think there's great wisdom in what Susannah and Sheraz said. And I think the particularly the Roman Catholic Church has much to learn in terms of, we have not done a good job of of educating and catechizing our faithful on how to pray through their lives. And it's been more or less a formula going to church. And they're very good, Catholics are very good about reciting prayers if they're led by a presider. But I think the other faith traditions have a great wisdom in teaching us that that faith springs from the home. And it's really the parents in the family that are the catechist. And if the faith doesn't come from the home, sometimes it withers if hallenges are met. So I think that, you know, particularly Christian faiths, which are sort of programmed of going to church, fulfilling a Sunday obligation of going to church. I think there's great wisdom at this time that we might learn from other faiths. So the challenge really becomes for Christians. How does one pray when we can't gather as a community? And what what is the face of that prayerful experience in the home? So many Christian churches have gone to livestreaming of their celebrations this Easter. Many Catholic churches were livestreaming their Easter vigil, their Palm Sunday, Good Friday celebrations. But then people are sort of passively taking it in their home and participating. The challenge really becomes how does one take that and really make it alive in one's own family, one's own life, one's own home?

Laura Knoy:
That's interesting. Martin. So you're feeling inspired by hearing Susannah and Sheraz talk about observing your faith at home, praying at home. Christians, you seem to be saying, correct me if I'm wrong, have something to learn from that where, you know, Christians don't have the minister or the priest leading them, they kind have to figure it out again. Is that what you're saying?

Martin Marklin:
Yeah, I don't want to make a sweeping generalization, but I think we we all have great wisdom to learn from other faiths. And there are many devout Catholics and faithful Christians who do through their whole lives, preach the gospel and know how to pray. But I'm just simply saying that, not to make a generalization, but it seems like the model of the Catholic Church, which is celebrating on Sunday and the mass which is coming together as community. Sometimes the church, I feel, hasn't done a good job of catechizing its faithful in and fully experiencing their faith by living it out in their home. And then it's become more dogma, more that the ritual, the full conscious and active participation really needs to start from the home. Its fullest expression, obviously is in a community worshipping together. However, the seeds need to start in the home.

Laura Knoy:
Well, coming up, I've got an e-mail from a minister who wants to ask all of you about your faiths and how you're looking at different scriptures and religious texts to help you in this time of COVID-COVID-19. This is The Exchange on NHPR.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. This hour where Granite Staters are finding strength this spring amid unprecedented anxiety. Our guests are spiritual thinkers and philosophers who've been looking at the texts of their own faiths for guidance. And let's hear from you too, Exchange listeners, whether you consider yourself a member of an organized religion or not. We do want to hear from you. How are you trying to make sense of this time? What meaning are you trying to pull out of it? Our guests are Martin Marklin of Marklin Liturgical Candles in Contoocook. Also Susannah Heschel, professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College, and Sheraz Rashid. He's with the Islamic Center of New Hampshire. And all of you, got a very thoughtful e-mail from the Reverend Shayna Appel of All Souls Church, who says after 40 years of wandering in the desert, it's unlikely that the Israelites who entered the Promised Land were the same group who were freed from slavery in Egypt. In like manner, the Jesus who appears to his disciples in the resurrection is not the same as he was in life. I'm not sure, the reverend says, if there's a comparable story in the Muslim tradition. But we'd love to know if there is as we encounter COVID-19 in our day, how do your guests think we will be transformed? What a great email. Reverend Shayna, thank you very much for writing. And I'll turn to you first, I think Sheraz. The other two guests mentioned this before. You know, as people struggle at the beginning of the struggle, when they emerge, they're not the same. First of all, to answer her question, is there a comparable story in the Muslim tradition of transformation after a long struggle?

Sheraz Rashid:
Yeah. You know, one of the things that we have when the migration of the Prophet Mohammed to Mecca, to Medina, he took a lot of his companions with him and a lot of the companions their lives were turned upside down after they accepted Islam. And where they had accepted the religion of Islam, they had gone to the lengths of telling their families and explained to them that they're migrating. And they went through a great ordeal and great hardship. And some people who are rich became poor and people who had a lot of respect and honor lost that respect and honor,just because they took the faith of Islam. And so they went to Medina. They were brought to a new, new beginning. And they were told to, you know, would you start from the beginning to create a new livelihood. Some of them, new families. So a lot of transformation had occurred in that struggle and strife they went through as a result of accepting Islam.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. Well, and I'm glad she wrote, Martin, because I attended an online church service yesterday for Easter. And I was wondering about the Easter story where, you know, Jesus emerges from the tomb and the people who are close to him don't recognize him. And yesterday I was thinking, well, what's going on with that? Why don't they recognize him? They knew him very well. But as the reverend writes the Jesus who appears to his disciples in the resurrection is not the same as he was in life. What are your thoughts, Martin, on what the reverend writes and how this process of transformation is present in these religious texts?

Martin Marklin:
Well, I think it's correct. I mean, we will be changed and things the new normal will not be the old normal. And one of the reflections that I have as a Christian, one of the first words that Jesus said to his disciples upon the resurrection is peace be with you. And the questions that I have among faith goers is in the Catholic and Christian faith, we have an exchange of peace in the Roman Catholic tradition. The exchange of peace occurs before communion. So what is that expression of peace going to be like? You know, it traditionally has been a hug and embrace or a handshake. So what is the expression of sharing peace with one another before communion? What is that going to be like? And I think these are all questions that our faiths are going to have to grapple with in terms of how do we be faithful to our faith in light of a new normal. How are we going to be transformed?

Laura Knoy:
Yeah. There are these major transformations such as our emailer writes. But you're even talking about, Martin, You know what might sound like a minor transformation? What is peace be with you? How is it done? But that's kind of a big deal, too, I think. I think I know what you're talking about.

Martin Marklin:
Yeah. I mean, I think it's you know, it's gonna be a new normal. And, you know, for the Christians, the resurrection, which is about life and hope, but all the faith pieces it's such a important tenet to be peaceful people. And what is the expression of peace and sharing peace and being people of peace and how is it going to take shape? How are we physically, as we encounter one another, how are we going to be peaceful people and how are we going to exchange that peace with one another?

Laura Knoy:
Wow. So, Susannah, you're the one who first mentioned this hour this idea of, you know, the Israelites who left Egypt were not the same Israelites who ended up 40 years later in the Promised Land. But I'd love your thoughts, too, on what our emailer writes.

Susannah Heschel:
Yeah, it's wonderful. It's a wonderful message. And I'm struck that several rabbis who've written in recent weeks have emphasized the importance of kindness at this moment. So that this is not a time for, oh, deep theological reflection, for example, about why some people suffer. But kindness, acts of kindness. There's a great difficulty, I think, that will stay with us when this is over, of expressing gratitude for our lives, even as we're mourning the people who've died. I have two cousins who died this past week, for example. I'm grateful to be alive, but I'm also in mourning. I think we also need to recognize the heroism of the people who are keeping us alive at this moment and that means not only the doctors and heroes who appear in the newspapers, but the people who wash the floors and the hospitals, the people who run the ambulances and of course, work in the stores that keep our food supply going. So the expression of gratitude, I think is extremely important. And it's difficult when we feel so overwhelmed and isolated. And many feel depressed and lonely and neglected and lost. So the acts of kindness are extremely important, and I'm struck that my rabbi is a very, very kind person and I see that just his kindness inspires deeper religiosity and devotion in his congregation. So there's a strong connection there that strikes me. Kindness to one another and devotion to God.

Laura Knoy:
Susannah, I want to pick up on the concept of grief that you mentioned and ask everyone about it. I know you've suffered a big loss. I know Martin has suffered a big loss recently. But before I ask you about that, Rabbi Peter Levy is calling in and he wants to join a conversation. So, Rabbi Levy, thank you very much for joining us. Go ahead, please.

Caller:
Thank you very much. It's been an honor to be with you. I have chosen a slightly different tack in that. Yes. Susannah and others have spoken so eloquently about the history and all. I'm just trying to maintain connections between people. We have used that we use the zoom platform a lot. And on Friday nights and on Saturday mornings, even our torah study, I find we actually have more people online than we have sometimes in services. And one of the simple things that I do at the end of services, when a previous caller mentioned the peace be with you, at the end of service. And you're looking at all the little faces in the little in the little windows on your computer screen. I have people holding their hands at the edges of the window to try and reach out and touch the people in the window next to them. And just to feel a connection, to make some kind of a connection in some way of one person to another. Our catchbasin is very wide and a lot of our people are scattered over a lot of distance, just to try and facilitate a sense of community that whenever we do get back to the new normal that there will be, I'm hoping, perhaps even a stronger community. As we lose connection, you're looking forward even more to reestablish it.

Laura Knoy:
And finally, let me ask, Sorry to interrupt you,what part of New Hampshire are you in?

Caller:
We're in Derry.

Laura Knoy:
All right. What I did wonder, I've heard other faith leaders say that in some aspects of what they're doing online, they're able to reach more people. And I heard at least one faith leaders say I got more people online than I did, you know, on a Sunday. I guess I wonder, though, Rabbi Levy, about elderly people who, many of whom have very strong connections to their faith communities and and they're not online. And I just wonder, as a rabbi, how you're reaching out to those people who are not connected on the Internet.

Caller:
I pick up a telephone and call. It's very simple. Sometimes the voice just to say, are you okay? We were in the process before all this hit the fan, of setting up a caring community of congregants that would reach out and help people running errands and things like that. Unfortunately, it's hit a bit of a roadblock, but even just a voice on the telephone to say, are you okay? Are you there? Is there something some people, we still occasionally go out, go to a store. Can we put some groceries on your doorstep? It's all about realizing that connections are more than just the physical contact. There is this spiritual connection.

Laura Knoy:
Rabbi Levy, I really appreciate you calling in. It's good to hear from you. Thank you.

Caller:
Thank you very much.

Laura Knoy:
Again, you can join our conversation to tell us where you are finding strength, whether you adhere to an organized religion or not. And what do you think is important to remember in these times? Basic concepts like Susannah talked about kindness, generosity, gratitude. I want to ask all of you about processing grief. And Susannah mentioned the loss of two cousins just recently. Martin, you were friends with the beloved New Hampshire children's author, Tomie de Paola. How are you, Martin, processing your own personal grief in the midst of this huge, broader societal sadness?

Martin Marklin:
Well, it's difficult because the the normal expression at times of grief is is very physical. It's touching and it's embracing. And in our isolation, we're prevented from doing that. And so it's a very difficult time. And as I ponder, it's the extremes of life, birth and death that are are so much in focus these days, you know, that people are giving birth alone and people are dying alone. And that is two points of life where normally we celebrate in the community of the family and loved ones and the heart, my heart really goes out to those who who do die alone. I mean, Tomie was in the hospital. And because of the virus, no one could really see him. And so my heart goes out to those people who are going to pass from this life alone without their loved ones at their side. Similarly, those who are giving giving birth. You know, it's the two ends of the spectrum.

Laura Knoy:
So as a strong Catholic. Martin, what do you find in Catholic teachings to help you with that? You know, the grief of missing your friend Tomie. And also this broader sadness of people giving birth alone and people dying alone. Where do you get some help with that?

Martin Marklin:
Well, you know, and personally, my father died on March 18th, not from the virus, but from congestive heart failure. And we our family was able to be at his side, fortunately, for two days of blessing before he passed. But in the week since he came out of the hospital, he was in rehabilitation alone. And I think for people of faith, I mean, this is the time when people draw on their faith in terms of some sense of consolation. And I think for, as a Christian, we believe that there is resurrection and that the end of life is not just death and that there is hope and that there is a way in truth. And I think as Christians, we believe that my father is in heaven in a better place and hat's what gives us comfort. And I think that's what makes it meaningful, even though the sadness and the grief is there and the mourning. I just I think this is the times that people of faith draw upon their faith for some consolation and solace, even in the in the absence of physical touch.

Laura Knoy:
Well, I just wanted to express Martin my sadness about your father and I, you had told me about that. And I'm very sorry about that. And Tomie. And Susannah, you told us before that the beginning of the hour that you had lost two cousins just recently. So here you are processing your own personal grief in the midst of this broader societal grieving. How are you coping with that? How are you drawing on, again, Jewish teachings to kind of grab onto something to help you with that?

Susannah Heschel:
You know, years ago I came across a phrase in medieval Jewish text, Hebrew text, it said that a person is whole when their heart is broken. And I read it and I immediately burst into tears. I don't know why, but it touched me deeply. And I think about it often and I wonder how we understand that. If my heart is broken, does that make room perhaps for God to enter? Does it make me realize that I need other human beings, that I can't just rely on myself? But it felt very understanding that phrase. And also, oh, it felt comforting as if somehow to grieve is the most human thing. That's in fact, where my soul is, where my pain is, is where I find my soul. So we are here grieving with millions of people around the world who are losing relatives and friends and teachers, beloved people. And how do we respond in Jewish tradition, of course. We have a funeral. We have a burial. We sit Shiva for a week and our friends come and bring us food and comfort us. And then we go to the synagogue twice a day and we say Kaddish, a prayer that actually doesn't speak of death, but speaks about magnifying the presence of God in this world. I think in Jewish tradition, there is a response, first of all, of course, of crying, of grieving with tears. And then after a while, perhaps the tears stop and were just silent, trying to understand and not knowing quite what to say. And then ultimately we try to turn our sorrow into a song by remembering the person and keeping that person's feelings and spirit inside of us alive, creating a memorial to the person. Doing good. Being like the person, emulating what we loved about that person and feeling that person's presence with us so that, yes, our heart is broken. But brokenness perhaps is creating room, room for God, room for friends, room for prayer, room for us to also remember that we have a soul and to feel it, to know it, to feel its presence.

Laura Knoy:
Sheraz, I have a similar question, but slightly different for you. I want to ask you Sheraz, about what I'll call smaller grief. And we hear, you know, Martin and Susannah's tremendous loss. We hear about people getting very ill or dying of COVID-19. And then sure, as we might feel guilty complaining about all the smaller griefs we're enduring, you know, a cancelled visit from dear friends, a major birthday or anniversary, not celebrated, a lost college graduation. So, you know, you feel these small losses and then you hear about enormous losses like Susannah and Martin describe and you almost feel bad, feeling bad about those smaller griefs. If I could put it that way. What's guiding you, Sheraz, or helping you and others in your congregation with this aspect of grief?

Sheraz Rashid:
Well, first and foremost, I want to give my condolences to Martin, Susannah for your loss. You know, obviously, it's a difficult time for a lot of people. But when you hear people who lost close loved ones, that obviously brings things to perspective. And to your question, Laura. Yes. You know, when when you for example, I had a friend who had tickets to a Celtics game. And when the season was canceled and all of that, you know, you know, really, you know, flabbergasted and upset, he missed out on opportunity. But when you hear about all the death of this plague of COVID-19, you know, it's a of bring things back to perspective to you as a human being. And one of the things that for me, that a verse from the Qur'an that comes to mind, it's usually said when a a person passes away, it could be anyone, a Jewish person, a Christian person, a Muslim, a Buddhist or a Hindu. No matter what you are, when a loss of life occurs, there is a verse in the Qur’an that a lot of Muslims say, and that verse is: indeed we belong to God and to him we shall return. And we say that every time when a person passes away because it is sort of to bring you back and bring you bring your perspective back to him. That hey, yes, there is life, there is your work, there's your family, there's everything going on. But at the end of the day, and even belong to God, and to him that you will return, are going to turn back to him. And one of the things that COVID-19 has been doing for a lot of people, it's sort of bringing things back to the olden times, the way the way the religions were followed in the past, where people would would sit together in conversations and sort of learn.

Sheraz Rashid:
And people are coming back. And I think there was a caller that mentioned that there was more people coming to their livestream as a result of that. So people are going back to the olden ways of getting back to circles of knowledge and understanding their faith more. And one last thing I will mention that I think was touched upon, which is with regard to human life. One of the most beautiful stories we have in Islam is when the Prophet Mohammed was sitting with his companion and a funeral procession, a Jewish procession was coming through the city and the Prophet Mohammed, as respect he stood up and he stood up and paid honor to the Jewish person who had passed away. And the companions, they looked at the prophet and they said, why are you standing for this person who was not a Muslim from the Muslim faith? And he said something so beautiful. He said, was he not a human being? Was he not a person who had family, that had people who loved him? So we pay honor to this human being that has lost their life. I think a lot of Muslims are sort of realizing, you know, the beauty that we have in America. People from different faiths and different groups who are appreciating each other and appreciating each other's work and what we do.

Laura Knoy:
Well, after a short break, we'll take more calls and emails. And also want to pick up a point you said Sheraz, the use of modern technology with these very ancient religions. It's really interesting. We'll talk about that as well.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. Today, in a time of anxiety and uncertainty comes the promise of spring and this month, religious holidays representing resurrection, freedom and divine connection. Today, in exchange, we're asking where Granite Staters are finding their strength and hope, whether from an organized religion or a personal spirituality. Our guests for the hour, Sheraz Rashid. He's with the Islamic Center of New Hampshire. Susannah Heschel, professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College. And Martin Marklin of Marklin Liturgical Candles in Contoocook. And all of you, a caller from Hopkinton, Brennan is on the line. Hi, Brennan. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
So I am Quaker and the kind of core of Quakerism is the belief that there's that of God in everyone and that everyone has equal access to God and our worship is done in silence with each other and listening to each other and listening to that of God within us and within each other. And it's been a pretty powerful experience over the last couple weeks to hold these services, via Zoom, and to essentially sit and and look at each other on the screen and sit in silence with each other and just listen. I think it's something that our circumstances with COVID-19 have really opened up this ability to add the importance of listening to each other and I've been able to worship with meetings, Quakers from all over the country, from the Quaker meeting that I went to when I was young,to other meetings that I've been to as an adult. My Quaker meeting right here in Concord and yesterday with my family, all over my extended family all over the country. So it's just been a really powerful opportunity in otherwise challenging times.

Laura Knoy:
And a way to connect, Brennan with people of your faith community, but not in your physical community. Is that what you're saying?

Caller:
Absolutely. Yeah.

Laura Knoy:
Well, thank you very much for the call. And I'm really glad he called because I did want to ask all three of you about this more practical question. There's been lots of reflection this month, given the three major holidays on how houses of worship would be using technology to help their congregations observe Passover. Good Friday, Easter, Ramadan. So, Susannah, you first. How have you seen Jews celebrating Passover remotely? What does it bring to the table, as Brendan mentioned, and what feels missing?

Susannah Heschel:
Well, of course, Orthodox Jews do not use technology on holidays and the Sabbath. But during the week we bring this service in from the synagogue through the computer. And Martin had said earlier how important it is for Christians to learn how to pray at home. And I think bringing a church service or synagogue - it's wonderful. It's now in my home. I hear my rabbi speaking in my own home. So I think that's great. I also am struck by the way, it's something that my colleague Alexandra Covel wrote about that in the Middle Ages -- and this is in response to what Sheraz said earlier about the Prophet Mohammed standing up and paying honor to a Jewish funeral -- that actually Jews, Christians and Muslims in the Ottoman Empire used to pray together when there was a terrible disaster, a plague, an epidemic of some kind. And I think that's very striking and I hope that we're able to do that. I just want to make one point about Judaism here, and that is that when all of this started to develop, I felt absolutely apocalyptic. I mean, I just, the world is collapsing. This is a horrific pandemic. And not only that, but people are losing their homes and their jobs and becoming destitute as a result.

Susannah Heschel:
Somebody said on the radio that the economy won't respond to this, won't go back for 100 years, it'll take to recover. And yet I started to wonder, what is it in this kind of apocalyptic atmosphere? How can I respond to that? I can't live with the sense that the world is collapsing every day. I was becoming really terrified and I couldn't function. And then I realized that I think perhaps the answer and I imagined Sheraz and Martin would agree, drawing from their own faiths, the response Jewishly to apocalypse is the prophetic tradition that's very concrete. And the prophets Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, they tell us what to do. They say make justice. Care for the widow and orphan. Make sure there's no cheating in the marketplace. These are prophetic lessons that give us instructions and make us stand up on our own two feet and go out and do something. And these are lessons that are extremely important right now because in fact, we do need to create a society of justice. People are losing their lives because there is too much injustice in our society.

Laura Knoy:
Very grounding words from, you know, those voices reaching out to you, Susannah, from, you know, thousands of years ago. Yes. It's kind of comfort in a way it is, people have been here before. Yeah. And Martin, the two words that come to mind from the Christian tradition, in addition to what Susannah was saying, was fear not. So I wonder, Martin, what you are, how you're sort of breaking out of the apocalyptic thinking that Susannah mentioned. And I think a lot of people are having those feelings.

Martin Marklin:
I agree and I want to just pick up on Sheraz, what he said about this is the time to celebrate what unites us and not divides us, because COVID-19, knows no race or faith or gender. And so I think with his image of Mohammed is a very powerful one. Susannah, when she talks about acts of kindness, I mean, Pope Francis just recently said now more than ever is the time to heal wounds. What we should be as people is wound healers and we should be people of compassion. And what strikes me is, at the Easter vigil, which we just celebrated, my wife and I got up at 5:00 in the morning on Saturday because 14 hours ahead of us on the island of Guam, the first Marklin candle was lit as the Paschel candle as a profound symbol that light overcomes darkness and that we are people of hope. And then ancient prayer that goes back to the fourth century is sung that says: On this united grace, Holy Father, accept this candle, a solemn offering, the work of bees and your servants hands and evening sacrifice of praise. And then it goes on to say, A light divided yet undimmed. And it talks about the fact that by the sharing of one's light, the candle doesn't lose any luminosity. But yet the world becomes a brighter place in the sharing of that light. So I think for people of faith and hope, out of this darkness, we need to hold on to the fact that by the sharing of our light, by acts of kindness, by displays of compassion, that the world might be a brighter place at the end of this. And that is not despair and darkness. But as Susannah says, it's doing those simple acts of charity. The Catholic she's called the corporal works of mercy. That's what we need to be focused on now, not the theological spiritual works of mercy. We need to be burying the dead, comforting the sick, sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry. That's what I think we regardless of what our faith tradition is or no faith tradition. That is what we are bound to by being part of this human family that we are part of.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and Susannah said earlier, you know, rabbis right now are not saying, they're saying this is not the time for deep theological analysis. This is the time to get back to some of those basics that you mentioned. Martin, what about apocalyptic thinking, Sheraz? Have you found yourself sort of engaging in the world is ending thinking and what kind of pulls you back from that? I'm so glad you mentioned that, Susannah. Go ahead, Sheraz.

Sheraz Rashid:
And in Islam, you know, we have actual signs that show when the apocalypse is going to occur. And those are split into minor signs and major signs. So a Muslim, you know, they can literally look at these, see what's going on in the world and say, that's a minor sign, that's the major sign. And that's a question that was asked. Is this a sign of the end of the world? COVID 19? And the short answer to that, that was given by our local scholars and imams within the mosque was that no, it's not, because the answer was to those individuals, to their question was, well, are you able to go home and are you able to be with the family? Are you able to pray? Are you able to look for the mercy of God? And the answer was yes. I'm still able to pray at home. I'm still able to be nice to my neighbor. I'm still able to show acts of kindness, that I'm still able to be grateful for the frontline workers that are helping people during this time. So the fact that I'm able to express that, that that kindness and that devotion to God still shows that his mercy is there.

Sheraz Rashid:
And so the fact that that was a sign to the Muslims, that that was not a start of the end of the world. And one of the most beautiful things that, you know, Muslims are sort of experiencing right now is that one realizes that it's not the end of the world and there's still time to turn back to God, is that they're feeling that gratefulness for their religion, that gratitude that Islam calls for. And I think that's going to be more sought after as the holy month of Ramadan is approaching. And for your listeners who are not aware of Ramadan, Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and it's the month in which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, they abstain from food, water, intimacy with one's spouse and they stay away from all that is evil. You know, that brings, the social vices within our society. It keeps us away from that, and sort of re-kindles our devotion back to God.

Laura Knoy:
It's going to be very different for you, Sheraz, without the ability to gather. I know there's a lot of celebration with the meal at the end of the day because you've been fasting all day. What's that going to be like for you?

Sheraz Rashid:
Right. And, you know, one of the things about Islam is that it's the religion itself is a very social religion. We are told to pray five times a day and a lot of Muslims go to the mosque five times a day. So imagine getting to know somebody five times a day, you know, every single day of your life, for a lot of people. So this is going be a time in which we're going be stuck at home and be with our family, whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. You're going to be with your family doing this time. But I think it's going to sort of minimalize things a little bit for us, it's going to bring things back to perspective. Small things like appreciating your family, having quality time with them, being grateful for your family and for what you have in life. And I think one of the things a lot of people are grasping is that, you know, every single person wakes up every single day and does work, comes home, you know, rinse and repeat that same logic over and over. Well, now this Ramadan, it's going to be like, hey, I'm with my family, I need to spend some quality time with them. I need to rekindle my relationship to God and sort of appreciate the small things that I have and like. I think this Ramadan that's going to mean more than it ever has anyone's life.

Laura Knoy:
Well, we will wrap it up there. And Sheraz, I really appreciate you being with us today. And, you know, best wishes for figuring it out and celebrating. Thank you for your time today. That was Sheraz Rashid, a member of the board of the Islamic Center of New Hampshire. Martin Marklin, always good to talk to you. That's Martin Marklin of Marklin Liturgical Candles in Contoocook and Susannah Heschel, she's a professor of Jewish studies at Dartmouth College. The Exchange is a production of NHPR.