In addition to participating in the bear hunt, Grace UMC in Des Moines also has a giant giraffe.

My heart longed for company as I worshipped online this past Sunday with Plymouth UCC in Des Moines. During the children’s sermon, my pastor invited us to go grab, or hold in our memories, a favorite stuffed animal. She shared about participating in “bear hunts” as families walk or drive around finding stuffed animals in windows. After church I went on Facebook and shared a story about me and my brother and our favorite stuffed animals from our childhood.

We are being asked to practice “social distancing” in response to COVID-19. I think it’s more accurate to call this “physical distancing”. In fact, I think we are all working really hard to keep socializing, but what we are not able to do is be physically present with each other. In fact, as I prayed through my computer screen on Sunday, I realized we’re all in the middle of a great fast. We are fasting from being physically present with each other.

Nearly every faith tradition encourages the practice of fasting. When we fast, we are intentionally focusing on prayer, reflection, and transformation as we forego something we value, enjoy, or use to make life a little easier. We fast in order to see ourselves, other people, the world, and the divine in new ways.

How are we praying into and reflecting on this global fasting from physical connection? Are we closing in on ourselves and building walls? Or are we focused on the deep desire to be physically connected with others? I feel in my own heart a deep desire to reconnect with people, places, and happenings. I see a spirit of great creativity as people improvise social connection while practicing physical distancing as we are all working to flatten the curve. As we enforce physical isolation, how are we becoming more aware that we must draw closer as a global community? When this fast is over and we are filling houses of worship, sports stadiums, concerts halls, and restaurants, will we go back to how we were before COVID-19? Or will we live deeply into a global transformation once our eyes have focused on a deeper reality, our hearts have opened to a stronger longing, and our hands have embraced new opportunities for service in this time of pandemic?

As we practice fasting from physical contact, the global pandemic is slowing all of us down. Our assumptions of how the world works and how we are embodied in that world are being challenged. We are not individual bodies disconnected from others. We are by design community members. This includes being part of creation where we all reside on this shared planet as one global community.

When the world speeds back up in the recovery, how will we shape a new world? How will we use our bodies, minds, and spirits to bring the world closer together? How will we make the intersectionalities of environmental justice, which can seem so abstract, concrete? As we fast from physical connection, can we embrace the immediate hunger as fuel for individual and collective action that makes possible creation care solutions that seemed impossible before the world economy slowed to a standstill?

In the coming weeks, and maybe months, we have the opportunity to reflect on these questions, and together we can change the world in ways that didn’t seem possible not so long ago. Thus is the transformative power of fasting.

(If you are in the Des Moines area and want to go find the giant Grace Giraffe, you can find at Grace UMC at 3700 Cottage Grove on the building facing 37th St.)