“God in a stranger’s hello, God in a raised hand of greeting…”
So begins a short daily prayer recently offered by the Corrymeela Community in Northern Ireland.
The prayer recognizes that COVID-19 restricts many interactions we used to take for granted.
It goes on, “those simple gestures, be it a glance toward a passerby who looks back with a nod or the friendly question about what breed of dog you’ve got there, give us moments of connection.”
As a dog walker, I relate to that prayer. That’s how I too experience life these days.
Corrymeela anticipates a return to normal, whatever that is: “When instead of passing by or getting only as far as small talk, we will be able to draw close and learn more from each other.”
I don’t see that happening. Not anytime soon. COVID-19 will not go away. HIV hasn’t, TB hasn’t. We just learned how to treat them.
Measles hasn’t, in spite of a universally available vaccine. VD hasn’t, despite generations of moral lecturing.
COVID-19, or its many mutations, will shape our social interactions for a long time.
Corrymeela House sits on a rocky headland high above the stormy North Atlantic.
In its early days, Corrymeela brought together groups of young people from the Protestant and Catholic sections of Belfast, kids who had never spoken to, never even met, a member of “the other side.”
Both groups expected to be murdered in their sleep.
But they weren’t. And they built bridges of friendship and understanding across sectarian chasms.
Corrymeela had a vision – “an open village where all people of goodwill could come together and learn to live in community.”
It hasn’t always been easy. Corrymeela could mean “Hill of Harmony.” It could also mean “Lumpy Crossroad.”
In this time of social isolation, we act like “ships that pass in the night” – the only memorable line in an interminable poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow about lovers in a Puritan colony.
We exchange signals at a distance. We may know the other “ship’s” name. But we don’t know what kind of emotional baggage it carries, how sturdy its engines are, where it’s headed.
And then our paths diverge.
I think of another poet’s line: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood… Long I stood, and looked down one as far as I could… then took the other…” That’s from Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken.
Frost doesn’t contend that one road was better than the other. Only that, having made a choice, he can never know where the other road might have led.
We’ve all done that. Made a decision. And wondered for the rest of our lives where a different decision might have taken us.
We pass people along our way. Sometimes we walk a short distance together. Then we separate. Never encounter each other again.
Ships in the night.
Sad, isn’t it?
Until closer relationships are possible, the Corrymeela prayer concludes, “We give thanks for that stranger’s hello and the greeting we offer in kind.”
Maybe, in these times, it’s enough to celebrate God’s presence through simple gestures – a smile, a nod, a word.
Maybe these are the new liturgy of celebrating the Holy among us.
Jim Taylor lives in Lake Country.