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Prayer in a pandemic

This week I stumbled upon a study from the University of Copenhagen which found that in March, as the global spread of COVID-19 accelerated, Google searches for prayer skyrocketed to the highest level ever recorded. By analysing daily data on Google searches from 95 countries, the study concluded that more than half of the world’s population had prayed for the pandemic to end.

Maybe this isn’t so surprising. It’s well-established that people pray more in times of adversity. In 2015, in the 24 hours after the Paris terror attacks, more than 70 million people used the hashtag #prayforparis on Instagram. During the bushfires this January, #prayforaustralia trended around the world.

But such a spike in prayer does challenge a too-easy narrative of the secularisation of Western society. While attendance at religious services may be declining, personal spiritual practices like prayer endure.

Politicians are often slammed when they respond to tragedy with “thoughts and prayers” – and fair enough, if their words are unaccompanied by real action. But for most people, when disaster hits, prayer remains a natural and meaningful response.

The longest book in the Bible – the Psalms – is a book of prayer. I’ve been reading the Psalms since April, and it’s striking just how many are heartfelt cries to God in the midst of crisis. “Help, Lord!” “How long, Lord?” “From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”

What about you? Has this pandemic prompted you to pray when you wouldn’t have otherwise? Or led you to pray more than (or differently to) usual?