“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?