One of the positives that’s arising during this pandemic crisis that has forced most of us into social distancing, staying home, limited travels, and self-isolation is that we are discovering and learning more about what community means, or can mean. True community happens when the individuals who are part of it each feel valued, supported, cared for, and enabled to thrive and develop their own potentials. In true community we get to widen our circles of relationship. Now, some of us are getting to know neighbours we used to just pass by every day, maybe with a wave “hello”, but not by name. Some are reconnecting with friends and relatives and past acquaintances they haven’t spoken to or met up with in years by using online networks and chatrooms. Some of us are getting to know co-workers, colleagues, instructors, service providers, congregational members, other students in our classes, even members of our own family better, because we are having more personal interchanges. Some of our politicians are seeming to be more human and humane than we have known them to be before. Some of us are broadening our circles of relationships to include people who were strangers to us before this pandemic hit. Through these intensified, renewed, or first-time relationships we are discovering the powers of interhuman caring, discovering our own gifts for being attentive, supportive, loving. For people of faith it is about learning more deeply how we can embody God for others, how in “the image of God in which we have been made” we can connect and be present to one another as a “Lean-On-Me God”. I hope we don’t lose that learning or ability when the pandemic threat subsides and we travel the roadmap towards renewed life in the world again together. In our one world together again.
I also believe we are being reminded of and jostled into realizing when community fails. Staying home and social isolation in this current world climate is not safe for those who are still in abusive relationships, and for many who were already struggling with mental illnesses. People living in close quarters like prisons, nursing care facilities and retirement homes, congested poorer neighbourhoods, homeless shelters are not at all as safe as those of us who have more freedom of space to inhabit. Long-term care facilities and retirement homes in particular will come out of this pandemic experience with a long list of improvements and safeguards that they will need to put in place in the future, and soon. We may also need to equip and train a cadre of people able to provide front-line medical care and essential services so that those we already have don’t wind up over-extended, burnt out, or as much at risk.
We are discerning and increasing our recognition of who the extroverted and introverted among us are, and who are those who can slide one way or the other. Introverts, in general, are loving this time because they have less trouble staying home, picking up handwork, playing video games, watching movies, reading, doing crossword puzzles, etc. There are days and times for them when they probably won’t pick up the phone to hear one more messenger checking up on them, and will shut down their computers so they don’t see twenty-five emails in a row.
Extroverts, more deprived of physical and facial contacts, are flooding the internet with messages, spending more time on the phone, having lively family conversations and conflabs over the backyard fence. When the infectious fears are diminished or over, and it’s safe to be in small and large groups again, they will have to be patient with others who won’t yet be quite ready for a handshake or a hug. I realize I’m offering some caricatures here that are not entirely accurate coming from one who isn’t a trained psychologist, but I suspect you get my drift. We are learning some more self-awareness as well as awareness of how others differ from us. At our best, we value the good gifts we have to offer one another and take note of those habits and expectations that can sometimes put a strain on our inter-relationships.
I hope and pray, as you also might, that as we come out of this social lockdown experience, we will have learned and discerned how to true community better. We will hopefully have come closer to the vision of Psalm 133:
“How wonderful it is, how pleasant, for God’s people to live together in harmony! …
It is like the dew on Mount Hermon falling on the hills of Zion. That is where our God has promised blessing – life that never ends.”
(Good News translation)