After Harvard transitioned to online classes last month, Divinity School students said they are finding ways to maintain spiritual and religious engagement off-campus.
The Divinity School Office of the Chaplain and Religious and Spiritual Life has provided several resources for students to “use the coming days as an opportunity to deepen our spiritual and religious practices,” according to its website. These include daily “inspirational” postings — such as suggested lament prayers and compilations of spiritual tips — from Divinity School students on the “HDS Religious and Spiritual Life” Facebook page and Instagram.
The office has also linked tips from Harvard University Health Services to manage feelings of anxiety and fear that may have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, advising students to “keep connected” and “practice mindfulness and acceptance.” It also links to a website listing contact information of Harvard's more than 30 chaplains, who represent a variety of religious traditions.
Religious student organizations are also continuing to maintain a sense of community for their members and other Divinity school students.
The Harvard Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Students has transitioned to online gatherings, continuing their Friday weekly meetings for fellowship and worship on Zoom, according to Lore M. Stevens, HUUMS’s Communications Chair.
Stevens said students have adjusted their regular “joys and sorrows” ritual for online worship.
“Where we normally light candles, we’ve changed the ritual now, so that when someone shares a joy or a sorrow that's going on for them, after they are done talking, instead of lighting a candle, we all take a sip of water, sort of to mark that we are connected to them,” Stevens said.
“We’ve changed our ritual a little to fit the format — we can’t all be lighting candles in our houses and in our apartments,” she added.
Stevens also said that despite the difficulties of conducting worship through Zoom, the group has worked to maintain a sense of togetherness.
“One of our hymns, we’ve found that if actually we do sing it unmuted, it’s totally cacophonous, it doesn't work, but something about it is so funny that it just feels better to sing it unmuted, even if it’s bad and messy, because we’re singing it together,” she said.
HUUMS is also planning alternatives to the graduation-specific service third-years usually receive, possibly providing personalized gifts for the graduates instead. The group is also considering using its independent funding to financially support members as part of a mutual aid or grant network.
The Divinity School’s religious and spiritual life calendar lists a number of upcoming events that are continuing over Zoom on a weekly basis, including the HDS Presbyterians’ worship, the HDS Lutherans’ morning prayer, the Disciples and United Church of Christ’s worship, and the Tuesday Morning Ecumenical Eucharist.
Other events, such as the Episcopal/Anglican Fellowship’s weekly worship event, have been canceled.
The Harvard Buddhist Community was well-poised to adjust to online spiritual gatherings, according to the Venerable Xianfeng Shi, one of the co-leaders of the Harvard Buddhist Community. Starting last semester, the Buddhist Community hosted daily morning online sitting meditations, along with hosting a longer sitting meditation in-person on Thursdays.
Shi said the move to exclusively online sittings has improved the structure of the gatherings and encouraged more people to attend more regularly.
“We did improve a lot of online community — we made it more structured,” she said. “Every day we have a separate style of meditation practice. And we also expanded the community that we were open to, even beyond the Harvard community, to those around us who might find the support of community helpful. So it’s kind of like a mix of Harvard and non-Harvard students.”
Sarah M. Fleming, another leader of the Buddhist Community, also said the online events have strengthened the Buddhist Community.
“It's no longer like a separate Harvard Buddhist Community as functioning in-person and Harvard Buddhist Community as functioning online. So it's kind of like a blending of the two,” Fleming said.
Ultimately, Stevens said students across the Divinity School’s religious and spiritual groups will continue thinking of ways to practice their beliefs in their daily lives and support their members — even as the pandemic, online learning, and social distancing mandates change them.
“A lot of folks in the Divinity School are trying to think of ways to be useful, even though we can’t really be out in the world right now,” Stevens said.
—Staff writer Brammy Rajakumar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.