We line up to wait our turn to go into the grocery store; the pavement outside is marked with strips of red tape keeping us each two metres apart until by ones and twos, we are permitted to enter the sparsely populated store. When I take my morning run, as walkers or other runners approach, we both leave the trail and give each other a wide berth. FedEx comes to the front door; the parcel is left on the bottom step as the delivery person retreats to a safe distance.

I understand that, in this time of COVID infection, physical distancing is essential to slowing the spread of disease. I am impressed with how obediently we all follow the plethora of strange new rules of public etiquette aimed at reducing physical contact. But physical presence and touch are important.

Apart from cuddling my grandchildren, which is huge, there are more subtle manifestations of physical connection that I miss under this strict regime of separation. I feel the loss particularly in the absence of physical gathering for church.

I have a renewed appreciation in these days of distancing for just how integral physical contact is to our faith community. There are so many things I miss about not being able to physically connect in worship.

I miss looking down upon worshippers standing shoulder to shoulder in their pews.

I miss the joyful bedlam as people spill out into the centre aisle to shake hands in the passing of the peace.

I miss the feel of the communicant’s hand as I place the bread on their palm.

I miss standing at the back of the church shaking hands at the end of the service. I wonder if hand-shaking will ever return.

I miss high-fives with the children.

I miss being able to reach out and touch the arm of someone who has just shared a painful story.

I miss standing close in the hall at coffee time leaning in to hear gentle words being spoken.

I am not a big hugger; but I miss the occasional hug when someone has been away for a time, or is marking some joyful or difficult transition in their life.

There are so many things I have taken for granted and barely noticed before COVID stole them away. COVID is reminding me of the value of physical presence, the power of fleeting touch. It does not need to be a ferocious full-on embrace, just the physical closeness of another human being is a rich and healing gesture.

Christian faith is determinedly physical. We open to a deeper awareness of the presence we call “God” through physical things: the sound of beautiful music, the glitter of light refracted through stained glass, the familiar sacred space where we gather for worship, the colour and beauty of art and liturgical decoration. But, most of all, our hearts are opened by the presence of other human beings who join in this shared practice of seeking to go deeper into the hidden life of Christ’s presence dwelling within.

I encounter that presence in the sound of voices blended in prayer, in the response and call of liturgical exchange, in voices raised in song. I experience Christ in each person moving slowly to the altar to open to the presence that comes to us in bread and wine. I hear the voice of the divine in a caring word shared between two people, in the word of encouragement spoken to someone who is stumbling; it is not so much the words that are said, as the sound of the voice and the reassuring presence it conveys.

I hope that AC (After COVID) I will remember to cherish this gift of physical presence and never again miss the power of a simple physical gesture and the presence that is conveyed by another body as we share our journey.