“For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face….” 1 Corinthians 13:12
I share a book via FaceTime with granddaughters while they eat breakfast; they live less than two miles away. I smile as the 4-year-old shows me Butterscotch, her much-loved bunny; Butterscotch proceeds to die two days later, and I cannot help or hold the child in her grief.
Another afternoon, the little girls and their father walk here through the woods; we watch them through the windows as they play in our yard. The 7-year-old brings a dry-erase marker, and we play tic-tac-toe and hangman on either side of the glass storm door.
I stare at the computer screen and watch as my 7-year-old grandson in another state searches for hidden Easter eggs. Later he teaches me to play hangman on Zoom, then shares his Minecraft world with me.
Paul writes in his first letter to the church in Corinth, “For now we see through a glass, darkly: but then face to face. Now I know in part: but then shall I know even as I am known.”
Most often, the only way we can be with our absent family members right now is quite literally through one kind of glass or another, mostly through computer screens—through a window if we’re lucky. Likewise, the best we can do as the Body of Christ in isolation is seeing one another through a glass, through livestreaming and Zoom. We cannot reach out to receive the Bread of Life in the palms of our hands. We cannot pass the peace through hugs and handshakes.
I found a March 23rd New York Times’ article a helpful acknowledgement of the grief we are collectively experiencing during this time of isolation.
Right now, in addition to the tragic losses of life and health and jobs are the losses experienced by people of all ages: missed graduations and proms, canceled sports seasons and performances, postponed weddings and vacations, separation from family and friends when we need them most. We have also lost the predictability that we take for granted in daily life: that there will be eggs and toilet paper on supermarket shelves, that we can safely touch a door knob with our bare hands, that we can get a haircut and our teeth cleaned or spend a Saturday afternoon at the movies.
Or, I would add, that we can share Communion, or touch beloved grandchildren. We grieve losses we hardly dare name in the face of the catastrophes others endure.
On Easter evening, I found myself wondering what all this meant in connection to my relationship with God. Saint Paul tells us that we cannot see God face to face. We have always encountered God “through a glass, darkly.” What Jesus did was to embody God through his life and witness, through his death and resurrection, and (although we are not there yet in the liturgical year) through his ascension. No longer present physically among his followers, he promises to be with them—with us all—“to the close of the age.”
If I can experience the reality of my grandchildren without their immediate physical presence, surely I can continue to accept God’s close presence, Jesus’ comforting promise, the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, even though I can “see” and “touch” none of it. That’s been true as long as I can remember, back to when I was a little girl lying on the pew of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, Illinois letting the sound of the liturgy surround and embrace me as though it were God’s own voice.
And here I will admit that we did actually see the local granddaughters in person a week ago. The first time my son was going to walk with them through the woods to our house, we planned to meet them halfway. We met up just as planned, wearing our masks and keeping our distance, but the girls almost immediately got into a tussle with each other, the younger one dissolved into a tantrum, and my son turned them around towards home. Our last sight was of them walking away from us down the path and disappearing into the trees.
But we glimpsed them. As we trudged slowly home, I realized we glimpsed them just as we can glimpse God amidst this pandemic.
Spring, even in Maine, offers green shoots, wild daffodils, tightly curled buds on trees and bushes, the sound of birdsong and peepers. Life returns to what had seemed so long a dead world (we had seven inches of snow on Good Friday). The sky today is a clear blue, and the night sky will be alive with stars. This is the day the Lord has made. This is the world the Lord has made. This is the universe God flung into being out of exuberant love.
We see the traces, not only as we gather at our computer screens for daily Morning Prayer and Compline and for Sunday worship, but as we encounter evidence of rebirth all around us on this good and gracious earth, and as we follow stories of those who tend the sick and the dying, who sometimes literally lay down their lives as a result. There is so much goodness in this world, so much God.
Much of the time I forget. I grieve. I rant. I read the news and rage at the selfish, deliberate cruelty on regular exhibition. I cry out with the psalmist, “How long, O Lord, how long?” I look around our house at the neatly stacked art supplies that no child plays with now, at the playhouse which the cat has claimed with no children to inhabit it.
I drive past the empty church building on my rare trips for groceries. At first—and second and third—glance, nothing is the same. But that’s not true. We may see though a glass, darkly, but it is enough.
“For now we see through a glass, darkly: but then face to face. Now I know in part: but then shall I know even as I am known.” God sees us, knows us, loves us, is with us at a deep and profound level. So until then, I will be grateful for the glass, grateful for all the ways we can still gather with one another, grateful for the love that surrounds us – even as I grieve.
Where have you glimpsed God during this time of physical distancing?
Mary Lee Wile says
Oh, Stephanie, your reality through this pandemic and its accompanying isolation and medical necessities is so fraught, so fragile and complicated and just plain impossible. I’m awed by the clarity and assurance of your faith as you walk this hard road; I love your use of the road to Emmaus. What you say is both profound, and profoundly true. May you not only “know” but also *feel* the presence of our risen Lord as you journey forward. You and Dean are surrounded by prayer — I wish you could also be surrounded by family and friends.
Rev. Stephanie Batterman says
Well, my friend, you have touched the heart of the dilemma in which we find ourselves. Ours is made more challenging due to Dean’s chemo which makes him more vulnerable to infection.
So, yes, we hold on to the God whom we see faintly, but feel profoundly.
It makes me think of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. “Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.”(Luke 24: 13 – 14)
Those two disciples were heartbroken. All their hopes and dreams for a new kind of life – a life of freedom – had been dashed because Jesus had died that cruel death. Perhaps they were walking home – discouraged – trying to figure out what had happened and why – and what could possibly come next.
We are like them in many ways. We too, are discouraged, disheartened and afraid. We, too, are trying to understand what is happening. We stand in the midst of this world-wide pandemic in which many are sick, thousands have died and even more will become ill. We are isolated from one another.
But, as we follow them, someone new enters the picture – Jesus, the risen Lord enters the picture and begins to walk along with them. With him he brings insight and understanding. Into their world of despair Jesus brings new life!
So, in the midst of life – its sorrows and its joys – the resurrected Jesus is present. The resurrection means that we are NEVER alone.
So, we communicate as best we can, “through a glass darkly”, but the glory of the resurrection means that Jesus is right here, right now – always – in everything. We are not alone.
Lovely! Thank you for sharing and helping put words to feelings hard to express. Blessings on you and your family.
Mary Lee Wile says
Thank you, Ryan, for your blessings — we all need to bless each other these hard days. Sending blessings in return.
Thank you for your honesty and encouragement. All of us grandparents are feeling the same loss through this pandemic. I appreciate these daily posts so much. God bless you and your family.
Mary Lee Wile says
Thank you, Nancy. You’re right — the feeling of loss runs so deep. I hope you get at least “through the glass” time with your grandchildren.