Spiritual Health Care: Social Distancing Without Social Isolation | Sojourners

Spiritual Health Care: Social Distancing Without Social Isolation

An empty subway train is seen during the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) in New York City, March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

Editor's Note: Sojourners is committed to keeping you up to date with the resources, factual information, and spiritual sustenance you need to weather this health crisis. Even as our operations have moved virtual, we are increasing our work to offer news, commentary, practical advice, and theological reflections to our community. Stay updated at sojo.net, and please consider supporting this work.

Things are changing so fast. It’s enough to make us dizzy and scare our hearts. And I’m writing to remind you to be gentle with yourself and generous with others — we’re in this together.

When I wrote my first column on the coronavirus, just 12 days ago, I urged folks to stay home if they felt sick and to consult their doctors. Today, I write in the context of the president of the United States, in consultation with the country's top public health experts, asking every American to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people, to avoid resturants and bars, and for students and parents to work from home if at all possible. It very much feels like the country is on lockdown. What is now recommended could become mandated in order to save countless lives, and the economic consequences for families, and especially the most vulnerable people, are now incalculable.

As a result, all of us are living into new daily rhythms. While that alone is disorienting, we are already moving from a life of daily inconvenience to one of fear. Institutions from sports to conferences to schools have transformed overnight. Many of our children — both school-age and young adults — are now home with us, which requires its own adjustments. And many, many people are finding themselves abruptly and unceremoniously out of work, with uncertain prospects for future paychecks as social distancing measures continue for an unknown length of time.

Amid this, we must not let fear become a way of life. We remember the words of Jesus: Love can cast out fear. Leaning into love and learning what it really means to love our neighbors in this crisis will be crucial to our collective health and survival.

I, like so many of you, think of how this has affected — and will continue to affect — my children. Luke, who has been playing baseball since he was five and is as a senior in college, was getting ready to play what could very well be his final season of organized baseball. In the face of the pandemic, his baseball career is suddenly over. And my younger son, Jack, also just had his high-school baseball season canceled. At least they are now home together, as such losses are indeed life altering. While this was devastating for the boys, as Joy and I were with Luke in Florida last week for his spring training, I got to watch as the team drew even closer together both in their shared loss but also in greater solidarity and love for one another. The crisis bound them as a team, even as they were learning that they cannot continue to physically play together. This gave me perspective as I tried to deal with all the changing events of the week. So, as I write this reflection, I wonder how we can learn to stand apart for our physical health but stay together for our mental, emotional, and spiritual health. How do we stay connected and even get closer?

Our physical health rightly requires social distancing in a pandemic, but maintaining our spiritual health means we can’t let that lead to social isolation. We need physical distance but not human isolation, especially for the most vulnerable. Public health now requires social separation to prevent the community spread of the coronavirus, but personal and communal health means increasing — and not decreasing — social solidarity. Even living more alone, we must find new ways to be together, as community building is essential for communal health and the common good. Turning from physical contact with others must not cause us to turn away from each other, but rather turning to each other in better, deeper, and healthier ways.

So how do we build community that doesn’t depend upon physical proximity? How do we keep together while keeping apart? The answers must stem from active, creative, and innovated faith that leads to action. Our response to the coronavirus pandemic must be both effectively practical and deeply theological at the same time. And it is the vocation of the faith community to help us do that.

Sojourners has turned our attention to this crisis so that our platform can be a place where we learn how to answer these questions — together. We are telling stories and offering examples of how churches can be a community even as they can’t commune. We are sharing how congregations continue to serve the vulnerable in their communities even as they suspend weekend services. We are investing in ways to increase our resources that inspire and sustain each other while deepening our sense of community. We will share practical and creative ways to connect with and serve the elderly, who are most at risk for this virus, even if we can’t visit them in person. We will find and share the plans of local programs that successfully and safely feed people, especially children who will lose meals as schools close. Sojourners is a place where you can find the stories and connections to help you do all the above.

We also will continue our advocacy, demanding that federal, state, and local governments take responsibility to serve the common good by caring for people in need. We are following all the critical legislative votes closely and carefully, selecting and suggesting where your contacts with elected officials can do the most good — and we will call on you to act!

Families must be fed: We must extend SNAP benefits — nutrition aid — to those who need help as they lose income and food security. Low-income people who have lost their jobs must be sustained, so we must extend unemployment benefits. We must ensure sick leave is available to all to prevent people who are infected from having to work. We must ensure caregivers for children or older parents can access family leave time. Ultimately, an economic stimulus will be necessary to restore an economy broken by a pandemic — not one aimed at those at the top of the economic order, but those who need help the most. I promise that Sojourners will focus on the most critical legislative decisions and call for your action when it is most needed. Stay connected to our advocacy strategy and ready to act when most necessary.

Stay with us and learn how we can get through this together. Even in small groups and family circles, we will become an even stronger Sojourners community.

Fortunately, we aren't starting from scratch: In the last couple of weeks, we've covered many different aspects of life, faith, and social justice in a time of coronavirus. We have focused not just on how to think about what's going on but more importantly what to do in this fearful time. Some of the things we've already covered include how to continue having church when you can't gather together in person, how to anticipate and respond to the specific mental health needs and challenges of social distancing, why social distancing is so important with respect to worship, and much more. We have a number of additional pieces on the way to provide you with the resources, factual information, and spiritual sustenance to you need to weather this health crisis, and we'll continue to be a key place for that until this crisis has passed.

One of the most important reflections I can leave you with is this: Loving your neighbor has never been more important than it is right now, even if we have to find new and creative ways to do so. We are in this together.