Two years into this isolating pandemic, everyone seems at their wits’ ends. The toll has been high. Even those of us who are surviving seem to be doing so in less than impressive ways. The psychological, emotional, and spiritual damage we have sustained is yet to be fully ascertained. Our ability for civic or political dialogue has disintegrated. Health care workers are overwhelmed. Churches are zoom weary, and confused about how to care for one another. Our impatience and poor mental health has propelled us repeatedly to cry out, “How long? How long, O Lord?”
Compounded by the COVID variants, social distancing, and periodic quarantines, I have also felt mounting isolation from friends moving out of town, out of state, and from changing church homes and social circles. It is not easy to establish roots or navigate new relationships in a time of social distancing. More than any other time in my life, I am struggling to discern how best to remain connected to people. How do I build community, cultivate relationships, or maintain friendships when we are often physically closed off from one another?
The good news in this suffering is that this pain is a glorious indicator that we are still human. We need each other. We still long for companionship. That alone may save us.
I hold on to this truth, because, at times, it seems we have lost our communal identity and have replaced it with a predominantly individualized one. Even in the church, we abandon belonging and vulnerability for vapid words like “fellowship,” as in, “eating in the fellowship hall.” What can a phrase like that possibly mean during the winter of the Omicron variant?
Oh, sure, we recognize the Bible as boldly addressed to listeners in second person plural, but we don’t admit the full implications of what living joined together as the body of Christ means as a people of covenant, of companionship, of the enfleshed body of Jesus. We are not his body alone, or individually. We only belong because we are joined with him. And in being joined, we are not meant to separate. Our devotion to Christ roots us into our devotion to one another. Our allegiance to Christ compels us in our faithfulness to each other.
If given the choice, I would shrink my world to where only my feet could take me, but maintain the daily connections with people I love. It is the deprivation of deep-seated community, both kindred and casual, that hurts the most.
We are discovering what it means to miss the regularity of human interaction and the rhythms of connecting with even the most casual of acquaintances.
According to the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, joy is not a private emotion in Jewish faith, but a collective celebration. Recently, I read one of his last blog posts before he passed away a little over a year ago. As an introvert, I was challenged by being so inextricably linked to others. Both intuitively and scripturally, however, I know it to be true.
Then, a bit later he discusses the Jewish nation being formed together as one, through both lament and joy.
It is true that we are not able to lament well without community. We need others to see, acknowledge, and share our pain. In the same way, the joys and triumphs of life feel flat without communal celebration. We are unsure who we are without the hard work of living in community.
I am making no attempt at coming up with a national solution. Such a daunting task is well above my pay grade, and perhaps even impossible. My thoughts, and my pain, are deeply local and personal. Nor do I advocate dismissing CDC guidelines, or ignoring the well-being of my neighbor. My family and I are vaccinated; we mask; we will continue to be cautious about our time out in the presence of others.
My family is privileged in so many ways, but I think it is still appropriate to name the loss. We have been bereft of time with family and friends. I know you feel the loss, too. We feel the loneliness, and are unsure how to break out of this isolation. Many days it is difficult for me to accomplish the most rudimentary tasks. Instead, Rabbi Sacks has encouraged me to be braver in my questions, more audacious in my complaints to God.
- How do we live as community when we are geographically separated?
- What does practicing life together look like in times of COVID?
- How can we faithfully pastor and mature one another in isolated situations?
- What are our spiritual practices that will be life giving for us to share? Creeds? Prayer? Scripture reading? Listening? Transformative use of technology?
I am only beginning to form better questions. I have no answers.
I suspect it will take awhile. I suspect that finding joy may be more frightening and more painful than I initially hoped. I brace myself in case the following may be required:
- Love lavishly where you can as if you have never been hurt before.
- Listen carefully as if it is the catalyst for change.
- Draw people in as if no one is beyond the pale.
- Live modestly, admitting you cannot take on everything at once.
- Disagree humbly as if your demeanor matters.
- Trust God wholly as if there was nothing you needed to achieve.
It is a tall order, but if it leads to greater peace and a better community, and a more joyful way, it is worth the effort.
Please share. What has been the most helpful for you to reconnect with others?
What has been the most difficult?
What has been the most satisfying use of technology or creativity for you during this pandemic?