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The Need for (Real) Connection

June 27, 2021

Photograph by AL Gawlick www.algawlickphotography.com

Even before the pandemic, loneliness and isolation were huge issues in our country. The digital divide is more than just an economic issue. These phones and computers that seemingly connect us, also separate us. In April of 2020, as the global pandemic unfolded, Susan Pinker published an article in the Wall Street Journal discussing the need for connection. And not just any connection, but face-to-face connection. Sure, we have Zoom. We use masks. We stand far apart, and make all sorts of accommodations. But the truth is, all of these work-arounds are just that – work arounds. We need, we require face-to-face connection. Her perspective is a fascinating examination of how the brain functions (or doesn’t)  with face-to-face interactions. She discusses, alongside other experts, how the tiny reactions we make, our facial tics and the way we move are all ways the brain processes social cues and our space in community. We have a need – biological and spiritual – to connect with one another in real, physical ways. It’s scientific. And guess what? It’s also theological.

At the core of Christian theology is incarnation. Carne. Meat. Flesh. Bone. Blood. God and Humanity becoming one. Matter matters. The face-to-face that we need for our entire brains and bodies to function correctly. The touch we’ve missed and craved. The elemental truth that, indeed, our very health and lives depend upon incarnation. This pandemic has demonstrated in very stark and simple ways that the miracle of incarnation is not limited to one Jesus of Nazareth. Rather, it’s a daily miracle. A daily grace. The ability to see, touch, feel, and be with one another. The miracle is about being there for each other and showing up for each other in real, tangible, and meaningful ways. Science and theology align completely in this context.

What I’ve stated before remains true: there is no return to Eden (as if there ever was an Eden to return to). There is no going back to pre-pandemic days. The virus is here, and isn’t going away. Neither are our hand-held devices and social media worlds that mimic incarnation. But perhaps now we can be more honest about the realities laid bare. Our vulnerabilities – economic, social, physical, mental, even spiritual – have been exposed, and we’ve had to live them out in very painful ways. But now we know, we truly feel in our flesh and bones that what we have for each other is – each other. A hug, a pat, a high five, a smile. It matters – “matter” being the perfect word.

And as we emerge from over a year without matter, without flesh and bone and blood, may we not forget. May we be intentionally grateful to be back with each other. And you know, speaking of Eden, the story ends together. In a garden in a city. People. Together.

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