Canon Adrian is on his annual leave; this week's reflection is from Revd Devin: By tomorrow, masks will be required for customers in shops and supermarkets throughout England. (If this is all news to you then you are to be commended on not spending the last three months glued to your newsfeed, and you can find out more at www.gov.uk/coronavirus). At the time of publication of this eMag, we are awaiting the Church of England's update as our national Church considers their advice in light of the Government's emerging guidance on face coverings.)
Masks have become a strangely politicized issue in the Anglo-American world, even though in much of the rest of the world masks have been a normal public health response for years now. I've some personal suspicious as to why — perhaps we associate masks with bandits, rogues, and highwaymen; perhaps we don't like being told what to do; and I suspect that there is a resistance to relying on equipment rather than 'strength of character' (and here you and I might have a long talk over a pint some day, comparing the Amundsen and Scott expeditions and their differing attitudes about relying on good equipment rather than pluck).
It can help to reframe these conversations in the light of faith and scripture — I'd like to invite us instead to look at Exodus 34. I'm a big Moses fan. He's difficult, cantankerous, feisty, faithful and fearless. He gets up everyone's nose — Pharoah, Aaron, his fellow Jews, and even God. The whole arc of his life, however, is a journey from privilege to protecting the vulnerable, a prince who gives up all he has in order to defend the defenseless, who risks his life to free the enslaved Israelites and who intercedes on their behalf even when he's exasperated and exhausted.
When Moses comes down from the mountain after speaking with God, his face was shining, and all were afraid to come near him. And when Moses saw their fear, he put on a mask. He veiled his face, for the safety and comfort of others. In time, that veil becomes unnecessary as Paul argues in 2 Corinthians —as masks may become unnecessary when the pandemic comes to an end. But there at the foot of Mount Sinai, it was necessary.
When we wear a mask, we do so not to cut ourselves off from others, nor to defend our own safety alone, but to protect others — that if as a community we remain masked where physical distancing isn't possible, we reduce the likelihood of asymptomatic transmission. Or as the official government advice puts it, "Evidence suggests that wearing a face covering does not protect you. However, if you are infected but have not yet developed symptoms, it may provide some protection for others you come into close contact with."
We can chose to put on our face mask, our veil, not as a governmental encumbrance, but as a spiritual discipline. Prayer in these times becomes even more important, seeking Christ in all people even when we see through a mask darkly (especially darkly if your glasses fog up like mine do when I put on a face covering).
I have an MDiv, not an MD, and am no epidemiologist. And I'm no Moses — I've got the difficult and cantankerous attitude, as Adrian will testify, but I'm not so sure about the rest. What I do know is that being asked to protect the vulnerable is a Christian discipline, and that a mask can become not an imposition or a debate about efficacy, but a reminder of prayer and of promise, a reminder to act with compassion, patience, and hope in difficult times.d