|Posted by St. Alban's Episcopal Church on March 19, 2020 at 3:05 PM|
Connection. I think if there's one word that speaks to the spiritual realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's connection. In these days of forced "social distancing" we are all being reminded of how deeply connected we all are, in ways that are both beautiful and, at times, frightening. We are also discovering anew how important relational connections are to our emotional and spiritual health. We are being confronted with a profoundly important existential question: as we seek to keep a safe distance from one another, how do we maintain and even strengthen those life-giving connections that are so essential to Christian community and to our well-being?
This question has relevance beyond the current crisis. In our 21st century context, we have an incredible capacity for connection. Social media in the internet age allows us to connect and re-connect with friends and family across the distances of both space and time. We can make very good use of these tools during the current crisis, as we seek to continue to be with each other, even as our in-person contact is becoming more limited. I'm watching with amazement and gratitude as churches, schools, and other service organizations are so adeptly using social media to reach out and maintain connections, and even establish new connections. Many of us are being forced out of our comfort zones, some of which are isolating and unhealthy. I see all of this as evidence of God's Spirit at work in and through these challenging days. And I see much potential for some enduring and life-giving changes as a result.
That being said, I think this moment is also calling us to reevaluate the ways in which we establish and maintain connections. As helpful as communication technology can be in these efforts, it can also be quite detrimental if used wrongly. We see all too often how email and social media can be used in counterproductive ways: as tools of prejudice and hatred, rather than compassion and mercy; to create discord instead of unity. As someone who is an introvert and conflict-averse by nature, I know the temptation to hide behind electronic communication and to use it in passive-aggressive and destructive ways. Many of us know the temptation to present ourselves and our lives inauthentically on Facebook and other social media. There are indeed ways in which we misuse these tools of connection to create barriers and unnecessary boundaries that are death-dealing instead of life-giving.
As always, we do well to look to the life and teachings of Jesus. Jesus never allowed societal boundaries or barriers to prevent him from reaching out and showing compassion, especially to those who most needed it, to those who had been relegated to the margins by societal and even religious norms. He very intentionally crossed those boundaries to extend God's unconditional and limitless love to all. He went out of his way to spend time with the tax collectors, the prostitutes, and the lepers; those who were considered by their society to be untouchable and unworthy of love and compassion. His public ministry was one of constantly ignoring and breaking down these barriers of prejudice, fear, and hatred.
Don't misunderstand me here. I'm not at all suggesting that we should stop practicing the necessary "social distancing" during this time of pandemic. What I am saying is that we need to find new ways to maintain and strengthen our connections with each other, even as we are forced to limit our in-person contact. Instead of using them as tools of division, use social media and other electronic communications to intentionally reach out and show love and compassion to others, especially those who may be feeling marginalized and isolated at this time. Don't forget the good old-fashioned phone call: pick up your phone and call that person that you know is living alone and may be feeling isolated, even the neighbor or relative that you're not crazy about or don't talk too that often (maybe especially these folks). Call those folks you know that may not have access to email and social media, so are feeling particularly disconnected. Even while maintaining the safe distance that is being called for in this moment, be on the lookout for new ways to cross the boundaries of prejudice and fear to show love and compassion. In other words, do what Jesus would do.
These are indeed challenging days for all of us, but in them there is also tremendous potential for the strengthening and deepening of those connections that are so vital to Christian community. By God's grace and through our intentional openness to one another, I have little doubt that this will ultimately be a time of spiritual growth for all of us.
God be with you, Kevin