Two months ago, when derecho hit, we briefly lost power at our house and cell service was pretty much wiped out, too. My keen husband had the foresight to head out once the wind had died down and buy as much ice as he could find. Not to hoard – that’s more my instinct – but to share.
He drove around for about half an hour delivering ice to friends in our “village” who might need some. One couple that we were trying to reach live on our street and I remember dialing and getting nowhere with my call. It felt like a scene from a movie. Chainsaws were buzzing through fallen limbs on our front doorstep and on my phone line all I could hear was static. How frustrating to just want to get a message to a neighbor but not be able to see or hear them! We finally did reach one another, on the sidewalk, in real life, but wow! What an ordeal that was.
There’s a part of life amid COVID-19 restrictions that feels like an ongoing “replay” of derecho static – we’re missing one another and we’re reaching out, but not always connecting. This makes me think of a section of the local community paper where I went to college. The column was called I Saw You and it was a place to look and find observations one person had made about another. “I saw you on State Street and Eighth Street,” or “Blonde hair, Honda Civic.” Details like these provided a way to make connection, when time had lapsed and contact missed.
On some level, I think we’re looking for this now.
A newspaper column isn’t the same as a close relationship, but we’re looking for all sorts of substitutions now. We can’t touch one another or be in close proximity, so how do we approximate closeness? One of my favorite peculiar encounters in John’s gospel features Jesus greeting a man who is skeptical of his Messiah status. Nathaniel wonders, “Could anything good come out of Nazareth?” But when Jesus sees him, he says of Nathaniel, “Here is a man in whom there is no deceit!” When Nathaniel puzzles at this, wondering how Jesus could possibly know anything about him, Jesus answers with an observation, “I saw you under the fig tree.”
This changes everything for Nathaniel. He commits to being a follower of the Rabbi he once thought rogue and Jesus promises him that his faith will show him even more, yet. What did Jesus see? Why is this detail so important? Maybe something crucial happened in the shade of that tree, but maybe it’s just as powerful to be seen in one’s ordinary rituals, rhythms, and habits and for a beloved friend (or maybe even a suspicious prophet – for that’s what Jesus was to Nathaniel at their meeting ) and for this person to say, “Hey, I saw you.”
This is my prayer for us, right now, in these days. That in world that sinks into new social limitations and distant, touchless greetings, that with the eyes of faith we might see and be seen by our risen Lord, our Maker, and our neighbor.