I was taught that there were five senses: taste, touch, sight, smell, sound. All ways of knowing the world around us, of taking in the beauty of a hibiscus blossom or the sumptuousness of the first summer tomato. Something resonates in the heart when we hear a loved one’s voice on the other end of the telephone. Our senses do not just make us safe. They seem like a passageway to the soul.
I think there is another sense too. It seems as real as the others to me. It seems just as rooted in human biology. Just as essential to life. I am not sure what to call it. But I know when I have experienced it. It happened Monday morning when 21 folks sat in a circle under an open-sided tent in the back yard of the church, each of us wearing masks and spaced six feet apart. It was more than the talking about what had been happening in our lives. It was actually being together. And it happened again yesterday morning, when eight staff members spread out across the sanctuary, each of us wearing our masks, to put the finishing touches on worship, then took our places at pulpit and table and lectern to share the words of hope we had each written. Afterwards we lingered a long time, we stood talking about this and that. When I left that gathering, something had happened that was more than the sum total of our five senses. Have you ever had one of those moments when you were trying to explain what happened and the person you were telling just didn’t grasp it and so you said, “Well I guess you just had to be there.” What do we call this sense?
Something powerful unfolds when we are together in the flesh. Maybe (I’m still deciding) it even happens sometimes on Zoom. When we experience an us-ness. Even an impromptu conversation on the driveway with neighbors. Or a drive-by birthday party. Or a friend on the back patio sharing a cup of coffee. Martin Buber, a Jewish mystic, called it the “ I and Thou.” Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered, there I am in the midst of them.” Even the most mundane human interaction between two masked individuals can reveal this sense. I pray it will not be too long before we can return to a rhythm of life that allows us to experience this life-giving togetherness.