Social Distance as Wilderness

Social Distance as Wilderness

Wilderness and desert are often motifs that are evoked during Lent. They are spaces of transformation, of reform. For the people of Israel, the time spent wandering in the wilderness was a time of learning how to live as people who are free. How do we live as people centered around the love of God and the love of neighbor? 

Israel had spent generations enslaved in Egypt. As Walter Brueggemann points out in his work, people do not simply leave behind an exploitative system. Exploitation forms our imaginations defines what we believe is possible. Unlearning these systems and mindsets takes time and intention. Or as Mavis Staples puts it in her song “Change,” “What good is freedom if we haven’t learned to be free?” 


Fasting is often framed in terms of a self-imposed wilderness, an abstaining from something in order to return our focus more fully to the Divine. Perhaps we’ve become so enamored with being busy we’ve forgotten how to actually love the people we’re constantly walking past. Perhaps we’ve become so consumed with meeting our own needs and desires we’ve forgotten that at the end of the day, we all belong to one another. None of us is an island. 


In this time where so many of us are social distancing, what if we approach this wilderness time as a time when we allow our imaginations to be reformed when we push our social institutions to be centered on love and care for one another than exploitation? 


As we are physically distant from one another, what if we become more open-hearted and honest with one another? 


As we are limited in our ability to go out and buy and consume, what if we evaluated not taking more than we need so that all may have enough? 


As we are all taking measures to protect the vulnerable in our society, what if we shifted our mindset to always considering others above ourselves? Towards loving and protecting one another, even if it feels inconvenient or disruptive. 


As governments around the world shift to make provisions in both time and resources to provide for people, what if we asked why we were okay with so many stretched so thin in the first place? 


May we enter these long, challenging days ahead seeking how we might be transformed on the other side. Perhaps these days of distance could be a wilderness that teaches us more about how to live together as people who are free.


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