Where does your faith bring you?
In pre-pandemic times, we knew the answers. We thought they were obvious. Our faith brings us to a building, to church or to temple or to mosque, to worship God in a community of believers. It brings us to the margins of society, to feed and clothe and house our brothers and sisters, to visit the sick and the imprisoned. It brings us into the streets, to protest hate and injustice. It brings us to inner reflection, to soul-searching and prayer.
But in stark physical terms, Daniel Berrigan, the Jesuit priest and peace activist, reminded us of the location of faith: “Faith is rarely where your head is at. Nor is it where your heart is at. Faith is where your ass is at.”
So where does our faith bring us when our derrières — to use a family-friendlier term — are planted at home?
Although I am a Catholic with the obligation to show up on Sundays, I have not attended Mass since the middle of March. I miss what I once took for granted. I regret my complacency. As some dioceses open up with strict guidelines for parish participation, I am mindful of the way COVID-19 spreads: through the air, through proximity, through speech and singing, through touch, all things integral to the Mass. I can see my church from my house, but I confess I am in no hurry to enter it.
In the months since the pandemic shutdown, I have been to Mass via livestream and Zoom, but I have not received Communion. At first I mourned the loss of the Eucharist. Then I was reminded by the wise priest at my Zoom parish, the place I think of as St. Quarantine’s when participating from my kitchen table, that Jesus lives in me. The living bread nourishes us, but Jesus does not abandon us if we are not able to go to Communion regularly.
Living our faith from the shelter of home is a tricky proposition. So much of the daily action of faith is based in community, in the presence of others who believe as we do, who encourage us in our works, whose mutual support sustains us. Many of us have recently felt compelled by faith to go outside, masked and cognizant of risk, to demonstrate for the Black Lives Matter movement. While we try to keep ourselves physically distant, we must be conscious not to be spiritually distant.
With no end of the coronavirus threat in sight, we have discovered that some causes and ministries can continue in a 6-foot radius. Some can be performed virtually. Some rely on our monetary contributions. All rely on our prayers. The coronavirus has forced us out of our churches, but perhaps the weird blessing of 2020 is that it has also forced us be creative in keeping our faith.
While we can’t be in our pews, we can remember the words of St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19) We belong to God. We carry God with us. Wherever we place our holy bodies is where our faith takes root. We are learning, in the absence of our comfortable church-going routines, that wherever we are, and however we can, we are meant to be the face of compassion. We are to embody change. We are to move towards justice.
In whatever odd world we find ourselves, we are to be Christ, the love that heals, the presence that calms all fear. In fact, that is the call of our faith, even in isolation. This upheaval of our normal lives in the age of pandemic challenges us to locate our faith differently, but to retain its persistence and its vibrancy. At least until our asses can physically venture out into our communities and ministries once again.