I’ve been thinking a lot about the challenge of masks. They’ve become a part of our culture for the time being. They are very challenging, as it has become harder to carry on conversations with strangers, and harder to read expressions of people we know. So much of communication is non-verbal, but now many of the non-verbal clues we use in communication are missing, due to the masks. This means that the masks themselves are socially distancing, and maybe for that reason alone they are serving their purpose in the age of COVID-19.
I am finding it a challenge to preach to a masked audience. I cannot tell as easily as in the past whether my words are connecting with people. I used to see expressions that told me if the listeners were tracking with me. If I attempted some subtle humor, I could see on people’s faces if it registered. Now I can’t really tell.
I performed a marriage ceremony recently—an outdoor wedding with only immediate family in attendance. It got me imagining a world where masks become standard—where maybe the first time a couple sees each other’s faces is when they finally take their masks off, standing face to face at the altar on their wedding day. I hope we never see that day!
It is a basic human need to know others and to be known by others. One of the hardest parts of this pandemic, beyond the physical illness, is for those who are shut-in for their own protection—say in a nursing home, or in one’s own home. They don’t have very much direct human interaction. They suffer from a lack of knowing and being known.
Let me take a Bible verse out of context, but it conveys a truth about God that is both precious and valuable these days. It’s from Galatians 4:8-9. The Apostle Paul writes to the Christians in Galatia: “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God…”
And he goes on to make his point. But having expressed that, apart from Christ, they did not know God, Paul now affirms that, in Christ, they do know God. Not only that, but he seems to catch himself and clarifies it: “now that you know God—or rather are known by God…”
To know Jesus is to know God. And to know God is to be known by God—which is what really counts. God knows your name; God cares about you as his very own child. God is not wearing a mask. You can hear him clearly and see the expressions of love on his face every time you look into the Word. He is not socially distanced from you.
You need to know and be known. In this age of isolation, rest assured that you are.
Rev. Brent Juliot serves as contributing editor of Faith & Fellowship magazine and is Pastor of Living Hope Church in Menomonie, Wisconsin.