(Longer post, but be honest. You've probably got time)
We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life.
- 1 John 1:1
The first rule about coronavirus is: Do NOT touch each other.
The second rule about coronavirus is: You do not talk about coronavirus.
Just kidding about #2. That’s a little Fight Club movie humor there to brighten your day. Literally everyone is constantly talking about coronavirus.
The first rule is true though, so let’s talk about that just a little more. Because I’ve been thinking about touch lately.
I had to go to the store this week. I was careful to keep several feet of airspace between myself and anyone else.
I go on runs in the woods and make sure that as I pass by others on the trail, I’m way over off the edge and I don’t breathe in anyone's direction.
I had a conversation with my neighbor yesterday, where we chatted as we both stood in our own driveways for 20 minutes.
I’ve had multiple meetings lately with people, all staring at a screen.
This is indeed what we need to do right now. But I have to make a confession. I’m a touchy feely person. I greet almost every friend with a hug, a handshake, or a high five. Touch is one of the ways I relate to the world. It’s really important to me. And right now, it’s dirty.
That makes me sad. But it also makes me wonder about something. Why is touch so powerful? And what is at the core of it? Maybe when we discover this, it will help us understand how to move forward loving God and others in a touchless environment.
I think, in many ways, touch is what makes something real. The early church proclaimed with confidence that God had come in the flesh because they had seen, touched, and been touched by Jesus. It couldn’t have been a mirage. They witnessed miracles, and they shared a meal with Jesus afterwards. Amazing.
Jesus almost never healed from afar. He touched blind eyes, leprous hands, and disabled legs. He engaged with people that were considered unclean by breaking bread- touching the same food- as they did. He crossed lines that Rabbi’s didn’t cross, because he knew that God’s love was so plentiful and God’s kingdom was so massive that it had space for all those who had been overlooked. And touching them was what proved Jesus was serious.
Even Thomas the disciple had trouble believing that Jesus had actually resurrected until he touched the risen Lord. As far as he knew, Jesus was just a spirit- or an overactive embodiment of a wishful imagination. Touching his wounds was what made his belief real.
Today, healthy touch still communicates real care (well, today it doesn't… but I’m talking about the normal reality before last week). Yet it goes beyond the physical. When we’re impacted by a kind gesture we say that it was “touching.” Sometimes a movie scene or a piece of music will stir something emotional deep inside of us. Or a sunrise, or a scripture verse, or any number of things. Why do we call those things “touching?” Because they hit on something in us that is real. That is important. That goes beyond the surface. We feel seen, and we feel impacted. Touching.
Right now, we are walking down a necessary but terrifying road. We’re becoming rewired to be careful and suspicious of others. For many of us it has already become a habit in just a few short days. That will help save lives and slow down the spread of COVID-19. I’m so thankful for that and we all need to listen. But it’s also going to do something that we need to be very aware of.
When this is all over, we might be afraid to touch for good.
Unless during our quarantines, we learn what physical contact has always communicated in God’s world, and keep practicing it without actually touching.
Physical contact and presence is important. But it’s not the only thing that makes things real. What makes things real is care. It’s truth. It’s love expressed in action. It’s compassion. In the world of Jesus, touch is about care. It’s about moving beyond the surface. It’s about extending beyond our own isolation into the reality of another and saying, I’m unafraid to love. This is the core heart of a Jesus follower.
No pandemic could ever rob us of that. So it’s our turn to learn to keep ourselves vulnerable, to keep our compassion tangible, and to do our part to create a culture of authentic love that is touching, just without literal contact. Right now there is a growing sense of isolation. Yet the opportunities are also greater than ever before to be a touching presence in each other’s lives. We just have to get creative.
So let us not think that simply because we can’t shake a hand, offer a hug, or give a high five, that our ability to care about one another is gone.
Let us not think that because many are confined to homes, that somehow we have lost the chance at real community.
And let us not think that a virus is the only contagious thing that exists in the world at this moment. For we have been given the Spirit of Christ - a spirit that is powerful enough to break down walls of fear and isolation. And it’s powerful enough to spread from one person to the next over cell phone towers, across driveways, from screen to screen, and through the invisible waves of prayer.
I offer no answers. But let’s ask the right question. How will I express love today to break down our growing isolation?
Jesus, in the uncomfortable empty space of my life right now, fill my mind with creative ways to make your love real to people.
*I wish disclaimers weren’t necessary, but I find it important to clarify this any time I speak of touch. Many lives have been damaged by unwelcome and inappropriate physical touch and outright abuse. Not all touch is good, and it is never our right to invade another’s personal space. But, in safe, loving, and mutual environments, healthy physical contact has great power for good.