This whole coronavirus epidemic has taught me at least one thing. Really, it's not the epidemic, but the whole concept of sheltering in place, or locking down, that has done the teaching.
Truth be told, very few of us truly locked down, even in those states and cities with the strictest of mandates . Plenty were considered "essential" and still had to go to work, and most others ventured forth at least to empty the grocery store of toilet paper . Home Depot, Lowe's, and Walmart had no shortage of customers. So, we were out and about, but clearly our lives were disrupted in significant ways. Consider . . .
One day you're a high school junior, sitting in History class and daydreaming about how great being a senior will be. You go to tennis practice that afternoon, or perhaps to sing with your school Chorus, and then later the word gets out that school is cancelled for a couple of days. Those days stretch out into weeks, and then they just tell you to forget about coming back, the whole thing will be on-line. There went your Prom date, the Chorus Concert, the chance to play for the Region Championship.
We couldn't get our hair cut, couldn't go to a movie, couldn't sit in a restaurant. Civic clubs quit meeting, the Scouts stayed home, Spring Training got cancelled and so did the Masters. Congregations didn't gather for worship, and suddenly we were tuning in to watch a pastor struggling to figure out how to communicate a message on-line and then to broadcast it. The efforts were sincere, but laughable, in many cases. I, for one, started a service turned sideways on-screen and several of my first livestreams gave the distinct impression I was speaking from a hidden, undisclosed bunker in a remote part of the American West.
Families were disrupted, often in terrible, anguishing ways. Hospitals shut down visitation and many patients suffered, even during their last days, without interaction with their loved ones. Seniors in nursing homes and other care facilities languished without face to face visits. Others, due to age or medical vulnerabilities, remained alone at home, thus missing out participating in life events with children, grandchildren, and neighbors. Many missed having a funeral or memorial service for their loved ones, thus forcing them to traverse the journey of mourning without the support of their community. Some of this continues even now.
Weddings were postponed and graduations cancelled. Little Leaguers didn't pull on their uniforms, don their oversized gloves, and then spend an afternoon or evening spitting and scratching , and maybe even swinging a bat and playing a little baseball. The world stopped, it seemed, and we were all sent to our rooms.
Engaging in a debate on the merits or fallacies of shutting down is not my focus here. You can read all you want about that on Facebook and you can watch any number of videos on You Tube, plus there are books already written and articles galore available on news outlets. Whether lockdowns and sheltering in place worked or not is open to debate, but the lesson I've gleaned from them is completely indisputable. Here it is - people desperately need interaction with other human beings.
OK, so that's not exactly groundbreaking, but it is integral to a life well lived. And to a faith practiced boldly and passionately. How could something so fundamental be overlooked and taken for granted?
First, because it's just that - fundamental. We take oxygen for granted but that doesn't change how vitally important it is. Just imagine that your next breath is threatened and you'll see what I mean. Our need for each other is so ordinary that it recedes into the background noise of our busyness.
Second, we may actually have bought into the myth of total autonomy and self-sufficiency. I can manage just fine, we say, and we actually believe it. With all the bravado and bluster of a four year old, we blunder forward confident that we can successfully navigate the tumultuous rapids of our lives. Right up until we smash into a rock or run aground.
Third, as Christians we might mistakenly believe that the spiritual trumps the relational, that dependence upon God negates our need for others. At best that's wrong-headed and at worst, it's an expression of spiritual pride, even arrogance.
It also happens to be unbiblical. Consider the words of the Lord God in Genesis 2:18 - "It is not good for the man to be alone." Or, also in Genesis, after Cain killed his brother Abel, you might remember God inquiring as to the whereabouts of his now deceased brother. In Genesis 4:9, Cain smarts off to the Lord, "I don't know. Am I my brother's keeper?" Well, yes, Cain, you are. He's your brother.
When Moses got the summons to return to Egypt for a showdown with Pharaoh, he pointed out that he was a poor public speaker. God invested supernatural power in the staff Moses carried, but that still wasn't enough to convince Moses he was up to the task. So, God told him to sign his brother Aaron up and let him tag along. Notice the Lord didn't admonish Moses that He, God, should surely be enough for him.
Jump to the New Testament. When Jesus sent His disciples out to do ministry, He sent them in pairs, not alone with an admonition to pray hard. When Paul, in the twelfth chapter of First Corinthians, compares the Church to a body, he speaks of the importance of each part. We often gravitate to verses 15-20, which essentially say that we should accept the value of who and what we are and then desire to find our place in the larger whole of the congregation. Too often we overlook verse 21 - The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" That would be spiritually arrogant, would it not?
The truth is, and the Bible bears this out, we need each other; it's wired into our design. Just watching people come into our sanctuary, keeping at least six feet between themselves and others, their faces half-shrouded in a mask they hate, and then seeing them sit apart from one another - BUT AT LEAST IN THE SAME ROOM! - I am reminded once again of that great reality. And then, seeing people show up this past Sunday for worship at 8 a.m., to sit outside, and distanced again but somehow together, it came home anew and afresh. We long for camaraderie and companionship.
I'm pretty sure the Maker of the universe knew that. After all, He made us this way.