I was reading the most recent issue of National Geographic and was gripped by the cover story on “The Power of Touch.” More than any other sense, touch is what we have been robbed of by the pandemic.
Dacher Keltner of UC Berkeley studies the science of touch and says, “It’s our earliest and, you could argue, our fundamental language of social connection.” How have you experienced the reduction in physical touch since the onset of the pandemic 28 months ago? I remember being told by an elderly member that the hug I offered in the greeting line on Sunday morning was the only hug she got during the week.
Social distance allows for a kindly bow or a nod or flashing a peace sign or Vulcan salute as we pass the peace, but I wonder how many of us long for a handshake with deep eye contact or an embrace that lets us know that we are seen and loved. We have a baptism coming up in a few weeks, and there is no way to baptize someone without touch! One of the most physically intimate moments each year is Ash Wednesday, when ministers apply a smudge of palm ash on the foreheads of worshipers. Think about it: who else would you let touch your face?
I am so very grateful for the technology that allows us to livestream our services. It has literally been a lifesaver during the darkest days of the pandemic. I’m glad that it allows members who are traveling (or members living elsewhere) to worship with us.
And I am seeing its shortcomings. There is something close, wonderful, and intimate about the experience of worshiping together in one place that gets lost online. You can look a fellow worshiper in the eye and say, “The peace of Christ be with you.” (Sometimes, you can even shake hands or hug them!) You can literally reach out to one of our guests in the pews and offer them a warm Plymouth welcome. You can have eye contact with the liturgist and the preacher. We eat the same bread and drink the same juice or wine at communion, and the minister and deacon can look you in the eye as we offer simple words of invitation. And you get lots of social stimulation at coffee hour, whether you want it or not! (BTW, look for wall-mounted hand gel dispensers!)
I know that for some churches, live streaming is being embraced so fully that it may become the primary avenue to worship. Maybe it is because I am of a certain age, but I think online worship is important and second-best, and sometimes it simply can’t compare to being in person and being able to touch, even if it’s just a fist-bump or an elbow-touch.
You never know how much your smile or greeting or simply your presence as a neighbor in the pew means to someone. If Woody Allen was correct that 90 percent of life is showing up, then your physical presence in worship is missed. Yes, we are still the body of Christ even when separated. But maybe next Sunday at our Outdoor Service in Rolland Moore Park, you’ll feel safe to come and worship with your Plymouth family. (Sorry…we can’t livestream from the park!)
We have been deprived of so much by this accursed pandemic. I invite you to take baby step back to normal life as you are able. Reach out and touch someone (with an alcohol-prepped hand).
P.S. I’m having knee-replacement surgery on Thursday, so I’ll be away for several weeks as I recover and endure physical therapy torture. Prayers are most welcome!