During this time of fear, disease and sadness, it seems we, more than ever, desire concrete answers.
We want accurate tests for this virus. We want to know the exact symptoms. We want to know exactly how effective masks are (even though they are not all alike). We want to know the exact “damage” that is caused by re-opening our community “too soon.” We want a vaccine.
And it makes complete sense, in a world of uncertainty, that we would long for concrete answers. It makes sense that we would want black-and-white answers so that we can make the right decisions to protect ourselves, our families and others around us.
But I am not certain that God always works like that.
I am sure you have seen those memes going around that insist, “We cannot go back to normal, because normal wasn’t working.” No gray space in that statement, and yet, in reality, I believe there still is. Because, there are people whose normal was more than working before this. I have friends who God had brought together and were joyfully planning their weddings. I have friends who had just begun relationships full of hope and promise. I know parents and families who were getting ready to celebrate a huge milestone for their child. There are people in my life who were finally getting medical attention for an injury or illness. Others had trips planned to see family and friends. It is impossible, and completely untrue, to say to these people that “normal” or “before” was not working. For many of them, it was more than working; they were thriving. The gray space here is that it is completely possible for there to be room for improvement even when normal is working (or more than working). It is also possible for different people to have and hold completely different experiences simultaneously in this world.
As I write these words, the states of our union are split on when it is safe to re-open. Some states have already fully done so. I happen to live in one where we are on the other end of the spectrum. All of that said, there is much gray space when it comes to churches re-opening. It can be completely true at the same time in this pandemic to say that people need church more than so many other spaces and places that have been allowed to re-open, but it might also be true to say that the way churches operate makes them some of the most dangerous spaces and places to be in right now. Whatever your experience or feeling with online church, church can exist as a spiritual safe place for us, but not a physical safe place for all of us right now. Thank God that our God will not be confined to one idea, one building, or one space.
This pandemic has invited conversation over the individualistic culture of our country. Many would argue that our culture that places high value on individualism makes it more difficult for us to put methods and measures in place to social distance and quarantine. And yet, you could also argue that people need to put themselves and their hygiene care first during this pandemic to stay safe. And you could also argue that individuals could be more successful at this isolation piece. In the spirit of gray, it doesn’t have to be either/or. It can be both/and.
Perhaps you have had some of the same thoughts I have had during this pandemic. And perhaps you have recognized a lot of gray space even while yearning for black and white. Just one more gray space for you: In this time of so many restrictions, there still exists many opportunities to create new ways to do the things that we have been told we cannot do (and safely and while following guidelines, I might add).
Our God is a God of creation, so I have to believe that God is in these gray spaces. God is most assuredly with us when we grieve and lament. God is most certainly with us when we protect one another yet still refuse to let anyone truly be alone. And God is absolutely with us even when we make mistakes and try to go it alone.
In whatever gray space you find yourself today, my prayer is that we all recognize it as gray – that we are aware enough to be sensitive to more than just ourselves. And I pray that in that thin, gray space of fear, sadness and uncertainty we might find God. Because God is not only with us when things are great; and God is not only with us when things are horrible. God is with us in the in between, in the gray. May we find God there.
JULIE RAFFETY serves as the pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Franklin, New Jersey. Julie is a violinist, aspiring writer, snowboarder, runner, identical twin and crazy about popcorn.