This week an AZ Disciples clergy colleague, Job Cobos, wrote a reflection on “solitary spirituality”. He focused on the pandemic’s effect on our spiritual lives and our need in these two years to pray and connect with God in solitude. Absent our customary gatherings for study, worship, service, and table fellowship, and because of the quarantining and isolating many of us have had to experience due to exposure or infection, we know all too well the void and the solitude of virtual connections that leave us feeling disconnected. As I read that phrase, “solitary spirituality,” it touched me deeply. Alone…yet with God…yet absent community (or not fully connected as we once were). Absent the laughter, the stories, the faces, the hugs, the compassionate and encouraging gaze of people who care. Solitary spirituality.

The phrase finally helped me put a word to what I have been feeling for a while now—longing. Longing for gatherings with friends to not need so many logistical considerations for health and safety. Longing for church gatherings and the use of our building by others to not need them either. Longing to no longer worry about putting someone at risk if I go to visit them. Longing to simply be around people without concern. Sometimes the longing is frustration mixed with acceptance of our reality. But other times the longing goes much deeper. A desperate feeling of isolation, separation, and a strong desire to be with others.

I imagine we all have similar experiences based on my conversations with people in the last few weeks. When I ask how they are doing, I typically hear they are fine and something about what is going well. But talk to someone long enough, and eventually a frustration, challenge, or other thing related to the pandemic comes up. We are fine, and we are not fine. We are well and healthy, and we are not.

I share this with you, because I believe it is important to recognize it about ourselves and to realize that we are not the only ones. There are others. There are many others. God does not expect us to just push through these messy and complicated days. God does not expect us to act as though nothing is wrong. Rather, I believe God gives us each other, even when at a physical distance, to help us name the truth of our experience, acknowledge the brokenness within it, and present ourselves before God’s creating and restorative spirit for healing.

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
    before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
and come to save us!
Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.
~Psalm 80, NRSV