It is Sunday morning. I am not on holiday or sabbatical study leave. I am not sick. I have not been fired. I am not trapped in a snowstorm. And yet, I am not getting ready to perform my usual Sunday morning functions in Church.

Thirty-nine years ago, this coming Tuesday, I was ordained a priest in the Anglican Church of Canada. In all the thirty-nine years since my ordination, I have never missed a Sunday except for holiday or during my one sabbatical leave or during one catastrophic snowstorm. COVID-19 has done what nothing else in my life has managed to do and kept me from presiding at the table with the people among whom I serve.

So, sitting here this morning, knowing that the church building in which I would usually worship today is empty, feels utterly surreal. All those people who would normally make their way to church to connect with one another and to renew their awareness of their connection with God opening their hearts to beauty and truth, are instead sitting at home observing the essential and very important practise of social distancing.

Church exists in part to help overcome social isolation. We seek to facilitate contact, contact with the divine and contact with all parts of God’s creation. We are the training ground for intimacy and vulnerability. And yet here we are being mandated to keep our distance as we must, to avoid people we love, stay as far as possible away from strangers, build plexiglass barriers to avoid contact.

It is an awkward uneasy space to hold. It is inconceivable that life may go on like this for weeks, even months. What is going to happen to intimacy? How will we navigate the terrain of personal connection and human touching in the future?

Life is going to be radically different when Coronavirus finally subsides. Even the experts have no real idea what lies ahead for institutions and human relations.

As I sit with all this discomfort and unknowing, I realize that, in truth, the situation we face today is only a somewhat more dramatic form of the reality in which we always live. The difference is that most of the time I am able to comfort myself with the fragile illusion that I am in control and that I really know what is going on.

In Mark’s Gospel, the Gospel writer tells the story of a man in Bethsaida who was blind. His friends brought him to Jesus and begged Jesus “to touch him.” Instinctively, they seem to have understood that touch is healing.

Jesus took the man who was blind and led him to an isolated place. Then Jesus “put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on the man.”

I am not sure how it feels to have someone put “saliva” on your eyes. But I imagine it would be an unsettling experience. The man who was blind must have felt, at least confused, if not repulsed and humiliated by the sound of spitting followed by the feeling of a stranger’s hands moistening his eyes. What could this awkward action possibly mean? How do you understand having spit rubbed on your face?

If, nothing else, this is a gesture of intimacy and vulnerability. It signifies everything we seek to avoid in life. And yet, curiously, it is this very gesture that begins the process of healing.

Jesus asked him, “Can you see anything?” And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees walking.” (Mark 8:24)

Many of us, having been blind, might well have settled for “trees walking.” But Jesus wants more for this man and the man is willing to submit even further to this strange process. So,

Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. (Mark 8:25)

It is difficult in the midst of chaos to see “everything clearly”. It is difficult, when life is so obviously out of control, to see anything “clearly”.  It feels as if the best we might hope for is the partial vision that sees people who “look like trees walking.”

Most of the time I see with the “trees walking” kind of blurry vision. But, when I submit to the “touch” of love and bear the pain of not knowing the way forward, I always come to see more clearly.

In this time of isolation and forced distance, I need to find ways to embody the “touch” and vulnerability that heal and bring clarity to the circumstances we face. Only the clarity that comes from “touch” will enable us to move forward with hope and confidence into the uncertain future we face.