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Keeping your distance

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We may not be able to gather for public prayer, the God we worship is near.

Jaymie Stuart

We'd been instructed to cover our coughs and wash our hands a hundred times a day, but it wasn't enough. And just like that, classes are moved online and offices are moved home. All events are scratched or postponed. Malls and theaters close; restaurants go to take-out and drive-thru only. And perhaps most upsetting of all, public Masses are cancelled.

To flatten the curve and slow down the spread of the coronavirus, the size of permitted gatherings has decreased from 500, to 250, to 50 --and most recently, just 10. Now, all of us are expected to practice something most of us have never heard of: social-distancing.

No hugging, no touching, no standing less than six feet away. It's harder than you'd think to avoid people, even those you don't know. But I think it's because most of us don't really know how to be "distant" any better than we know how to be close. We're not able to leave each other alone any more than we are able to love each other selflessly. Whether we're introverts or extroverts, most of us tend to occupy the middle ground we consider safe -- you know, the space from which we can be cordial toward others without letting down our defenses.

If these early days of near-quarantine teach us anything, it will be how hardwired we are for relationship. That's why our current circumstances are throwing us for a loop. Regardless of how annoying or aggravating we may find other people, very few of us want to be isolated or alone, especially when we are told that's what we must do. Honestly, it's like Chick-Fil-A on a Sunday or meat on a day of abstinence. We want it more when we can't have it -- not less.

Providentially, the God who made us and loves us doesn't know how to be distant either. And he doesn't want to be. He sent his Son in the fulness of time to enter not only history, but the human condition. God became one of us, not only once upon a time, for irrevocably for all time. And what that means is that Emmanuel, God-with-us, is here, even when no one else can be.

We may not be able to gather for public prayer, the God we worship is near. He is always close to us. If we are far from him, it's because we have chosen to practice a kind of spiritual distancing. And usually that's because we are afraid of losing the control we keep telling ourselves we have, but never actually did.

So, what can this pandemic teach us? How much we need God and other people; how empty we feel when we isolate ourselves for any reason; how very important being present is, and how terribly inadequate the technology we're relying on to get us through this situation is for basic human needs. These are things we've always known but frequently forget, and need to learn again and again. If we play it smart, this crisis can be an opportunity to do just that.

Even more, the next few weeks can be a chance to make the kind of retreat our lives do not normally accommodate. We can decide to use the space between us to draw more closely to God. We can begin to surrender our defenses as we do what we can to protect others. We can allow ourselves to embrace our own vulnerability, and choose to rely more fully on God.

- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.

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