How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.
During this Covid19 season, the term “social distancing” (competing with “lockdown” as words of the year) may be a misnomer as we are actually talking about physical distancing. For a long time now, people know that they can socialise and be intimate without physical proximity. We can think of written messages, love letters, phone calls and in contemporary times, social media and so on. While these don’t displace physical gatherings totally, they complement them very well. During the circuit breaker, we can say that these physical gatherings have been totally displaced but yet, those who desire to commune will find that online options do serve us very well. We can hear the timbre of one’s voice and see visual cues very well. Some may actually find these online interactions even more helpful. If you are hard of hearing, you can increase the volume. If you haven’t already noticed, in Zoom meetings, people speak in turn. Conversations are better regulated and normally those who want to speak get a chance. And if we have time to gather our thoughts, we communicate better.
So, wither the need for physical gathering? Online gatherings can complement but should never replace the occasional physical meet-ups. And we all do miss communal singing and worship, including breaking the Lord’s bread as these are difficult to do online (though not impossible). Online gatherings tend to pre-determine participants but open gatherings (such as a church service) allow for walk-ins or outsiders. Some will argue about the importance of touch but I tend to see that as best reserved for family or very close friends. After Covid19, few will argue about that.
Then, there is the issue of a place. From time memorial, places and facilities have played a big part in the life of every society. Think of those that are directly derived from nature such as a tree, river, field or hill. They give rise to specific activities and social interactions. Man-made structures also play a similar role such as an arena, a synagogue, market or coliseum. They are culture-creating and tradition-forming over many generations. You will see this aplenty in the Psalms which sing about places and buildings. Communal life needs to be “facilitated.”
Perhaps what is needed is to find a new balance. This needs to be driven by intention. While we may bump into each other in physical gatherings, we go online because we want to meet. These online moments can form the “IBM” experiences (in between meetings) and enhance our friendship and our working together.
As the Psalmist indicates, desire (our soul longs) comes first before entering the ‘dwelling places.” And I think at the end of the day, this matters most. It is not about physical versus online. It is whether we long to be with His people. Or, not.
Some food for thought for this season.