Living spiritually, but virtually

Among the most frequently used words during the coronavirus crisis that will linger in our vocabulary is “virtual.”

During the last month, Jews celebrated Passover, Christians celebrated Easter and Muslims celebrated Ramadan, which is still going until May 23. We had virtual Seders and sermons and studies. We Zoomed and FaceTimed and Facebook Lived — all virtually.

Religious life is spiritual, although sometimes people talk about being spiritual and not religious. We are learning during this time of social distancing that virtual community is only virtually communal. It gestures toward it, but it never completes it.

Faith in its fullest form is embodied. Waving at each other on a computer screen or blowing kisses into an iPhone leave us with greater longing for the real thing. It’s something, but it’s something that makes us want the real thing.

Notwithstanding the necessary physical separation of this time, there are things worth celebrating. Church has left the building, so to speak. If we have drifted over time into thinking the church and its buildings are the same thing, we are now recovering the sense of peoplehood that makes church, church. I mean that in the same way for Jews and Muslims. Jews require 10 people — a minyan — to form the necessary sanctity for certain public prayers. The Muslim concept of ummah signifies a sense of community that is united by faith rather than nation, geography or culture.

Faith leaders have been teaching in times of weal that the true altar of worship, where we bring offerings acceptable to God, is in the world. These altars are found wherever the poor and vulnerable are deprived of full participation in God’s creation. In these times of woe, it’s beautiful to see this truth sinking in. We are witnessing uncommon common efforts to tenderly tend to “the least of these,” as Jesus called his needy brothers and sisters.

Thanks-Giving Square has organized a “Serving Up Gratitude” initiative to bring meals to first responders in health care, as well as to other essential workers. The Communities Foundation of Texas organized COVID-19 response programs and a North Texas Cares fund to provide grants to nonprofits on the front lines of coronavirus service. My family joined others in a neighborhood drive to collect cans of food in front porch containers for the Wilkinson Center, as its supply from the North Texas Food Bank is depleted because of the extreme need.

You can’t simulate or stimulate the spiritual life without risking relationship. We were made in the image and likeness of a God whose nature is love. We are, therefore, our truest selves when we care for one another up close and personal.

While observing the required 6 feet of separation nowadays, we are learning more about the 6 degrees of separation between all human beings that prove our universal relatedness.

When this scourge passes, my prayer is that these virtual relationships will lead us deeper into real community with one another.