Sometimes the most beautiful blessings come in the ugliest wrapping paper. No, I’m not implying COVID-19 is a gift. I wouldn’t dare.

What I am saying, though, is that this sinister, snaggled-tooth, chicken-hearted disease also happens to carry within its microscopic makeup a miracle of untold magnitude. This weak-willed, lily-livered, so-ugly-you-can’t-even-see-it virus is actually giving us direct and renewed access to the power of the infinite and the bottomless beauty of the divine. Put simply: Fear, death and forced isolation can make you want to pray.

The power of prayer — now magnified by the shockingly rude arrival of this life-snatching disease — covers me in a cloak of comfort that I wear wrapped around my shoulders wherever I go. Cloaks of comfort are good. These days, my cloak of comfort also serves as my coat of armor — good thing, too, given that this deadly coronavirus is hanging onto my outside doorknob with the strength, tenacity and flexibility of an Olympic gymnast. Thank God for the miraculous transportability of prayer. It goes where I go, like a beautiful shadow.

Need a new cloak or coat of armor — or both? Try one of mine on for size. Lord knows, they work for me:

“Shooting Prayers”: Back when the world was normal, and I actually ran errands and drove to meetings, I’d send shooting prayers everywhere I went — to the small clusters of children standing on the street corner waiting to board the school bus, for example. Now I pray for any and everybody affected by the virus, which is, in effect, any and everybody. The key is in the quickness: You don’t have to send up the whole, beaded ballgown, as my mama used to say. Just sending up a pocket of a prayer will be just fine.

I send up “shooters” to all the truck drivers, healthcare workers, grocery store employees and political leaders; to the men, women and children in every sequestered corner of the world whose hearts have stopped beating — who have literally stopped living — as a result of this virus; to everyone and anyone who’s infected, whether they’re in ICU isolation or ICE detention. We’re all in this together.

“Penciled-In Prayers”: Write down the names of the people for whom you are going to pray. The act of writing it down somehow propels it more forcefully out into the universe — just like uttering the name out loud — and the very act of creating a list allows you to come back to it later and pray some more.

I have prayer notebooks. People call me constantly (and have for decades) asking me to pray for their loved ones — for the niece who’s about to undergo surgery, the son who’s about to take an exam. I write down the dates and times whenever I can, too, so that when the actual moment comes, I can enter into conscious prayer. We schedule everything else. Why not prayer?

“Jerks Need Prayer, Too”: Several days ago, I was reaching for that lastcarton of eggs at the grocery store when a ruder-than-rude rube swooped in and snatched the carton quicker than an eagle swoops down to catch a little field mouse (OK, since I’m still feeling a little snarky about it, we’ll call him a buzzard).

Later that day, I added Mr. Rude Rube to my prayer list and as I prayed — no joke — I could feel the resentment rolling off my shoulders. Praying for jerks can actually be joyous. It strengthens our sense of compassion and empathy and, eventually, it facilitates forgiveness.

“You Don’t Have to Squint”: As a child, I used to think that the tighter I closed my eyes during prayer, the easier it would be for God to hear (and answer) my prayers. But serenity doesn’t require squinting. You don’t even have to close your eyes when you pray — though “closing the shades,” as my mom used to describe it, always brings me peace. Just pray.

The hip, young, pithy people have started calling this virus “The ‘Rona,” which I really like because this dumb disease is not worthy of a full, respectful name. We must fight it with everything we have: knowledge, faith, fury, force, humor, heart, compassion, compliance — and, yes, prayer.

Forgive me if this sounds indelicate, especially on a topic as proper and pretty as prayer, — but let’s put on our armor, everybody:

We’ve got some ‘Rona butt to kick.

Originally published in the Miami Herald.

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