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As a young girl, Karly VanEvery watched the smoke coil from the tobacco offering and sniffed at the cool air as her mother burned sage and sweetgrass.
“The smoke rises to the sky to connect you,” she explained.
A member of the Mohawk Nation from the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, such a ritual was, and still is, a practice she engages in to acknowledge her connection to the Creator.
“My introduction to faith was through culture,” she said. “We have this belief in non-physical energy, the Creator, and how everything works through this.”
A reiki practitioner and student of psychology, VanEvery is constantly mindful of her faith and the force that influences it. “When I feel the energy of my ancestors — it is a pure and strong connection to my faith,” she said. “It gives me strength to work through everything as it comes up.”
At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, VanEvery searched for answers. “There was a wave of emotion to mentally grasp everything,” she said. “I did have anxiety. I did have fears.”
As the pandemic grew, VanEvery leaned on the teachings of her elders. “I asked my grandpa: ‘Have you witnessed something like this?’ He told a story of prophecies, of global shifts between people and Mother Earth, and how these interactions will change,” she explained. “That really summed things up for me. It shone a light on everything that is happening in a different way.”
Mehnaz Rahman also believes there is a further purpose to COVID-19. “Next year, when we are looking back, a lot of things will come out of this situation that will make sense,” she said confidently. “Trust the process. Everything happens for a reason.”
Initially, the rise of COVID-19 unearthed feelings Rahman experienced years ago as she struggled through anxiety and post-natal depression.
“Many things happen in life where we have no control over the outcome,” she said. “Trying to figure out why it happened or trying to control the outcome only adds more stress to our lives.”
Raised in a Muslim household, Rahman has remained spiritual throughout her adult years, believing in a higher power and that everything in the world is connected. So, when the fallout from COVID-19 became scarier, she drew heavily on her beliefs.
“When I feel the energy of my ancestors — it is a pure and strong connection to my faith. It gives me strength to work through everything as it comes up.” Karly VanEvery
“My faith has definitely become stronger,” she said. “I believed something was happening for me, not happening to me. I reminded myself that someone has a bigger plan for me and they are protecting my family’s well-being.”
Despite the hardships, Rahman’s approach to enduring the current upheaval is rather simple: “We don’t know what’s ahead of us but we can accept things as they are,” she said. “By shifting our perspective, we allow ourselves to be open to new possibilities. This brings peace and hope — and sometimes that’s the only thing we can do during challenging times like these.”
Throughout this pandemic, Bob Patterson-Watt has maintained a big-picture view as well. “People would like God to show up and tidy this mess up,” he said. “The world is full of messes. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could all go away?”
A community-minded leader, Patterson-Watt has pastored at Woodbine Heights Baptist Church for nearly twenty years. What concerns him most these days are those who might be falling through the cracks.
“Our government has done well and moved quickly,” he said. “But still, there are a lot of concerns right now. There are folks in the church who live on their own and won’t be in contact with anybody. And there is a danger of disappearing into this isolation void. COVID-19 makes stark the aloneness people feel.”
He believes reading the scriptures, reaching out to loved ones and engaging in active contemplation and meditation will help people cope. To help stay connected, he has moved his weekly Sunday worship service online, along with church clubs and board meetings.
“All contact is by phone or video calls,” he said, describing how the church needed to adapt quickly to stay engaged with congregants. Still, he recognizes the shortcomings of technology. “The hardest part is not being together when someone is having a crisis. Holding hands, entering those deep connections; those intimate moments in prayer. That can’t be replaced by Zoom.”
Perhaps it’s because of the calm response of her elders that Karly VanEvery remains firmly rooted in her faith. “My faith has been refined,” she said.
“This time during COVID-19 has allowed me to not focus on doing but rather focus on being.” She finds herself meditating more, reflecting on what she really wants to do and why she wants to do it. And she’s OK with the uncertainty because she knows her faith is stronger because of it.
“Whether we’re feeling a little hurt, a little angry, or our faith is challenged — it doesn’t mean something is bad. It just means we’re listening,” she said.
“Be with your breath. Be with this experience. Remind yourself that you’re exactly where you need to be.”