In the Presence
“[T]o see your face is like seeing the face of God…”
After leading my previous parish via social media streaming from my dining room table for three months, when we returned to in-person worship last summer with strict Covid-19 modifications, I joked with the congregation at the beginning of the service about how good it was to see them. It was much better than speaking to my mirrored self on my laptop each Sunday morning. Yet as we soon began and continued to worship together that morning, the joke was on me. I was literally overwhelmed by the gift of being in the presence of one another, of seeing one another face-to-face, after such a prolonged absence. It took this pandemic for me to recognize the gift of physical presence that I had taken for granted my whole life.
Maybe you too, in this time of Covid, have recognized the importance of “presence:” the freedom to shake someone’s hand in greeting, to hug grandchildren without concerns, or be able to read non-verbal facial expressions to understand and communicate better. These are all the simple things we took for granted before this past year, making life particularly difficult as we attempt to navigate this season as best as we can.
A couple of years ago, researchers found that face-to-face requests were 34 times more effective than those sent through email. Nonverbal cues make a difference in communication. Unfortunately, many of us have minimized the importance of presence and its power to build empathy and community.
Perhaps then, it should come as no surprise that a combination of a surge in social media usage and the isolation that has come with the Covid-19 virus have brought protests, conflict, and even violent uprising. We have forgotten the power of presence and that we are fleshy creatures, made in the image of our Creator, and made for each other.
Christian writer Collin Huber speaks of the significance of this pull toward presence. Huber recently wrote, “Nothing can replace the mysterious power of presence. It is why we hang family photos on the walls of our homes and pin crudely drawn crayon art to our refrigerators instead of the stock market’s daily index. They are mementos of life lived together.”
Despite the facemasks we continue to wear, how can we become more fully present to one another… have face-to-face meaningful conversation with one another… see the face of God in one another? Can those moments become the “photos” or “crudely drawn crayon art” that we will pin in our hearts as mementos of how we lived Covid-19 together?