The Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, a senior minister at Middle Collegiate Church in New York City, has been sheltering at home with her husband, son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren, but she's still feeling connected to her faith during the coronavirus pandemic.
"I'm a professional Christian," she quipped in an interview with TODAY, before noting that her faith is "being touched" in part through conversations with her congregants.
Lewis opened up about the role her faith has played in her life during such a challenging time.
How faith has helped her face the challenges of the pandemic:
"I'm born of African American parents, so faith in God was an organizing principle to sustain them through Jim Crow, segregation, sustain their ancestors through enslavement and persecution.
"So when suffering comes, I call on my Christian faith and my ancestors in the sense that God is a very present help in time of trouble. That God will comfort us, God will sustain us, God will liberate us. And that's what I experienced as a young woman when friends died, I experienced that in a catastrophic car accident I survived, I experienced that at 9/11, I experience that now — that God is here, holding us, suffering with us, and helping us to care for one another with compassion."
How she stays connected with her faith:
"Every single day I have the great opportunity to either talk to a congregant who lost their parent or to get a note from someone saying, 'I'm praying for you today, Jacqui,' or a thank you note from someone saying, 'We saw that online and it was a blessing.' So there's a real live conversation happening for me as a pastor with people in the congregation and with people across the nation, other faith leaders who are working together to keep faith alive, if you will, in the lives of our congregants.
"So my faith is being touched, amplified, provoked, delighted every single day."
How faith has guided her interactions with her family during the pandemic:
"It has been remarkable to experience this pandemic through the senses of a 2-year-old (grandchild). The days you could feel she was confused and didn't know exactly what was happening. That she was picking up on adult stress. And as we've all learned how to be a family in one space, her joy is back. She runs through the house: 'Nana, Papa, Mama, Daddy!' She giggles, she teases us.
"What I'm noticing is that as we adjust together, she's our litmus test for how we're doing, how we're remembering to ask each other how the day is, how we're resting, how we're praying. We go to church together every Sunday at Middle Church, where I'm the senior minister, we all do church together here, virtual church, and she says, 'More church?'
"When the 2-year-old is the barometer, I think that's probably true for all of us, that the vulnerable one is the barometer for how we're doing. And she's letting us know we're doing OK."
A quote that provides her with comfort and hope:
"One is Psalm 23, which speaks to so many of us, the sense that even in the valley of the shadow, God is with us and comforting us, preparing a table before us, the sense that there is a future between the now and the not yet, and the not yet is coming. That is such a beautiful image for me.
"I think the second one is in Isaiah 58, and this one is more of a prophetic critique. But this is the worship that God desires, is that we will feed the hungry and clothe the naked and not ignore our kin. And what makes it really sad right now is how we're not noticing enough that this pandemic is most horrific for the poor, most horrific for those who are incarcerated, for those who are black and living in tight spaces in the Bronx, in Milwaukee.
"So our faith comforts us but also challenges us to be godly for and with each other. And if we are doing the faithful thing, we are noticing that our nation has never been — this is from Scripture — if 'you've done it to the least of these, you've done it to me.' So we have to think Jesus is the one that's in jail that's sick. Jesus is the one using shampoo to clean and not disinfect. Jesus is the one who's poor and doesn't have health care. Jesus is the one who has to go to work on the subway and can't afford to shelter at home. Jesus is the one who is black and brown and not being well cared for, not only in time of COVID, but all the time.
"So I want our faith to break us out of the status quo and help us to see Jesus in the faces of the ones who are suffering and to do something about that."
What she would say to those who might be struggling to find hope at this time:
"Scripture says faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. But I think a good translation is hope. Hope is, like, not a static concept; sometimes we are full of hope and we rise up in confidence, and sometimes hope eludes us. And when it eludes us, we're just being human. We don't have to have a Herculean hope. Hope and doubt, hope and despair, hope and uncertainty, these are parts of the cycle of being a human being.
"For those who are struggling for hope today, I would say hang on and just wait a moment and your hope will come back. Your hope will come back because something will spark it."
What she would say to people who may feel distant from God during this time:
"God doesn't go anywhere. We do. And we're free to. God didn't create puppets, God created humans. So we're free to turn our back, we're free to hide our face, we're free to weep and weep and weep until we can't weep anymore. And when we look up, when we turn our face up, when we turn back around, there is God with open arms saying, 'Welcome home.'"