There are always deer out when I drive home in the late evenings. In the rural areas around my house, there are clusters of woodland left uncleared and wide open fields that are not always pastured. It is in those places that I see them. And they are always there, at the same time, no matter the season. All that changes is how hard I have to look in order to see them, whether it’s 5pm in the late summer and the golden hour makes it hard to spot anything and the sun low in the sky makes it hard to see much of anything, or 5pm now in early December when the only thing that is visible is the glow of their eyes caught by my headlights. If I see one close to the road while I am driving, then I take care to slow way down, because when one is, more are sure to follow. They never travel alone.
I am rarely alone. It was a cruel irony of the pandemic that ensured my children were right there under my feet every moment of the day, but still I felt so alone. Now they have gone back to in-person school, but I am a preschool teacher as well as a spiritual director, so I still spend the majority of my time with children. I love it, but there is a difference between bodies simply being around in our physical location and the experience of actual community. What I long for these days are the rich conversations that used to take place around my living room when I hosted book club. I miss the intelligent conversation that I had with friends in between classes when I attended seminary all those years ago. I am nostalgic for the banter with coworkers since Covid initiated a shift in how and where I work. Rich, meaningful conversation now feels hard to come by. I have to plan for it, and because Covid is still alive and well, there is a risk in it. At the beginning of the pandemic, my response felt obvious. I stayed home when I wasn’t working in childcare as an essential worker, I wore my mask diligently everywhere I went, I abstained from gathering with friends or extended family unless outdoors, I got vaccinated, I found a way to work from home and teach my kids at home…etc etc. But lately the response doesn’t feel so easy. I am longing for large group gatherings. I miss opening up my home to throngs of people who nestle into intimate pockets of conversations that go late into the night. All this time I have been wondering what the shelf life of my ability to isolate would be, and just now, late in to our second year of Coronatide, I have discovered it. The time has come, shelf life expired.
Preparing to preach a guest sermon at my friend’s church last weekend, I was reading Luke chapter 2. I will fully admit, I haven’t done much Bible reading in these past handful of years. (But side note, I was able to get my hands on the First Nations version of the New Testament, and I can not speak enough about how beautiful the translation is and how much more palatable it reads.) I reached the part where the angel appears to the shepherds in the fields to share the good news that the Messiah had been born and where to find him, and you know what my first thought was? “Wow those shepherds were lucky that they were together that night. They had someone to share that experience with.”
That is all I have today: an ache and a tension between knowing I was designed by a communal God to live in relationship with others, and the commandment to love my neighbor. What I want is to love my neighbor by sharing some tapas and a bottle of wine in a crowd of our friends without giving a care to masking or vaccination status. What I will continue to do instead is to maintain an appropriate level of caution and respect while enjoying the safe and small opportunities that I have been given for community. The waiting of this Advent season is the waiting to return to the pre-pandemic ways of gathering. I have it a heck of a lot easier than a young Galilean woman who had to travel 9 months pregnant on the back of a donkey, but I’m still a little cranky about my predicament. I think Mary would understand.