Today’s Word from Pastor Jim Written on Thursday, August 6…

“God will direct you; you will be able to endure.” Exodus 18:23

I was at Payless last night. For the past 30 years I have made countless visits while shopping there. Right there in the frozen food section, I would hear about parents or children, about impending operations or travel. Every turn, every aisle, would hold the promise of a close encounter with another familiar face. This was a community watering hole, a well where people gathered to collect water and food, but more than food, it was a place for a small-town connection. People met at Payless, you could find more gossip and probably more news than one would find in the South Whidbey Record. It did not matter if I was in a hurry or not, a trip to Payless was bound to take longer than anticipated.

I was at Payless last night and there was not a familiar face to be seen. It was relatively quiet at dinner time on a Wednesday night. The shoppers scurried about, looking down at lists scratched out on pieces of paper. People moved awkwardly down the aisles being careful not to get too close to their island neighbors who were hiding behind their masks. It was all business; the watering hole was gone. I was in and out in eight minutes. That has not happened in 30 years.

The masks we wear have driven us deeper into pandemic isolation. We go through the day without seeing a single smile, we are largely anonymous, we avoid contact, we are afraid of contracting a virus or offending the new mores of our pandemic culture. The loss is real. Add that to the fact that we are not supposed to go upstairs on the ferry, or go to church, or socialize with friends, or eat inside without sequestering our emotions and covering that which makes us recognizable, behind — you guessed it, a mask.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for wearing masks. I understand the necessity of being cautious. In 2020 love looks like an empty church. I applaud those who take this virus seriously; I understand that the lives of our most vulnerable are on the line. And I grieve; I grieve the loss of community, the blank stare of eyes that are weary, the measured steps of the fearful, the loneliness of living life behind closed doors, the absence of idle chatter, and the silent, seemingly expressionless faces that hide behind masks.

It is a season, it is a season of pandemic disruption, but this season will end. And the faces of God’s people will once again be seen, and the loneliness will retreat, and Payless will buzz, and the people of God will gather to worship and sing.

One day closer,
Pastor Jim