On Monday March 22, President Uhuru Kenyatta attended a memorial service for the late Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli. He was in the middle of his speech at about 1pm when Adhan, the Islamic call to prayer rang out.
As soon as he heard the call to prayer, President Uhuru paused his speech for the entire duration. This act earned the President praise from both Christians and Muslims across the region.
Against this backdrop, it is critical for us as a nation to actually pause, just as the President did and reflect on the role of both prayer and mutual respect in our lives. Prayer is not just a religious rite.
It is infinitely more powerful than that. Søren Kierkegaard the Danish philosopher captured it well when he said, “Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.”
One of the changes it effects in us is to stir respect for our fellow human beings.
At this critical juncture in our nation, when the corona pandemic is strangling our health, economy and way of life, prayer must regain its rightful place at the centre of our nation.
This doesn’t mean occasionally pleading with God to help us in our moment of need.
Rather, just as happened when President Uhuru paused his speech because of prayer, we need to deliberately pause and refocus our way of life to prayer.
Although there were those who scoffed at the late Magufuli’s constant call to Tanzanians to embrace prayer as one of the antidotes to Covid-19, millions of Americans were in fact, turned into prayer.
Last year, the Pew Research Centre conducted a survey that revealed that 55 per cent of US adults had prayed for the coronavirus spread to end. Evidently, prayer is a tool wielded by everyone, irrespective of race, social status or economic class.
Interestingly, the efficacy of prayer has been scientifically proven. In 2009, several researchers conducted a study on the effects of prayer on depression and anxiety.
Their study, published in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, revealed that when people prayed for each other, their depression and anxiety rates decreased.
Kenya’s current economic, health and political challenges have opened the floodgates of depression and anxiety.
I suggest that we embrace prayer as a shield against this onslaught.
This should be done both spontaneously and deliberately, in a coordinated approach.
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As a matter of fact, the same coordination being employed to roll out vaccinations should be deployed in prayer.
Corrie ten Boom, the Dutch writer who helped many Jews escape from the Nazis during the Holocaust once posed a question that should guide how we deploy prayer during these difficult times, “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?”
We should not treat prayer as a spare wheel that we only seek to use occasionally, during emergencies.
Rather, we should enthrone prayer into the steering wheel of our families and nation. If we do so, some of our pressing national problems will be tackled successfully.
In 2011, a study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin revealed that prayer helps in quenching anger and aggression.
In this regard, it engenders a feeling of solidarity and harmony.
This is exactly what Kenya needs. During these moments when challenges are punching us from every corner, it’s easy for us to become disillusioned and divided.
Thankfully, prayer can come to the rescue. Even as we seek to pray, we must never lose respect for one another.
You cannot purport to talk to God when you despise His children, your fellow Kenyans, your fellow human beings.
When he paused during the Muslim call to prayer, President Kenyatta was in essence showing respect to our Muslim brethren. His Christianity did not preclude him from extending respect to Muslims.
Kindness, which is a sibling to respect, is love in action. If we are kind to one another, if we are respectful of one another, then our political or tribal differences will not result in automatic hostility.
We can disagree without pulling each other down. As President Obama once said, ‘We can have political debates without turning on one another.’
As we enter yet another Covid-19 lockdown, let us pull together in prayer that is stemming from mutual respect for one another.
As we do so, let us listen to one another and to our Heavenly Father.
In the words of Mother Theresa, “God speaks in the silence of the heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer.” We must pause for prayer to heal our land. Think Green, Act Green!
-The writer is the founder Green Africa Foundation