Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Isaiah 55:6
“Isolier Station” – “Isolation Ward” – said the large sign in front of the building where I served as charge nurse some 45 years ago. The building was detached from the rest of the rather large hospital, located on a walkway that led from the back of the main facility to an apartment house for nurses. Visitors were only allowed to have contact with our patients by looking in through the windows. As health care workers we did everything possible to make the isolation less distressing for our patients, especially those who were with us for weeks on end.
Social distancing nowadays is isolating us from one another to more or less distressing degrees. While it is nice not to have somebody breathing down your neck at the checkout counter, I am going out on a limb here with stating that we would be glad to exchange that ‘positive’ for all the ‘negatives’ that come with the current isolation requests.
Residents in long-term care facilities are particularly affected by this isolation. Our hearts go out to them. How must it be for those who are stricken with COVID-19 and are quarantined at home or at the hospital away from loved ones? And, we all are particularly deeply troubled by the thought that thousands of people around the globe have died without their closest loved ones by their side. Just two months ago I wrote in our newsletter how important the labor of love we call ‘sitting vigil’ truly is when a beloved person leaves this earth. And, yes, it feels extremely isolating when only up to ten people are standing at a grave side – missing out on the usual hugs, tears and words of comfort we would normally want to share with each other.
Physical isolation is hard, hard, hard – even if, for the sake of ourselves and our neighbor, it must be practiced. Physical isolation has the horrible tendency to isolate us also emotionally and spiritually. People have realized that and computers, phones and social media platforms are running hot as we seek to keep connections going. Of course, as with all other things in this life, some forms of isolation as well as some efforts to be connected, especially with family and friends, are going a bit overboard in my not so humble opinion. It always takes us human beings a while to settle on a golden middle way, doesn’t it?!
It is no surprise that times like ours today always hold the danger of distancing ourselves from our faith. It is certainly not unusual for people to experience a true crisis of faith. The question, “Where is God and why does He not do something about this”, is easy to well up in us together with our tears. If God is so distant, I will distance myself from this God who appears not to care. There you go, God. And with that we withdraw from God, our faith and the community of God’s people that is here to offer support.
Well, lo and behold, God does not practice social distancing. God is not “into” isolation. God remains close to us even if we do not see, hear or believe it. God is with those loved ones who are cut off from us and our care. God sits vigil with those who are breathing their last. God does that without our help and perhaps especially under circumstances when we least expect it.
Yes, God is ‘other’ and we speak of Gods’ transcendence, being far away, beyond time and space. However, that statement must immediately be expanded to speak of God’s immanence, His closeness, His abiding presence, His constant protection. Most clearly, of course, this immanence, this closeness, comes through Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit. God is near, so near that He knows everything about us. So near that He understands our innermost concerns. God in Christ Jesus indeed walks with us and talks with us as the old familiar hymn says. Our part is to pray that we may see and hear, trust, hope and count on that nearness now and always. May it be so! No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. John 1:18 Amen.