When our Dallas County leaders announced the directive to wear masks in public, I immediately pulled out my sewing machine and made several for Roger and me, using the instructions on the CDC website. After one trip to the grocery store, though, I quickly traded my heavy fabric mask for a lightweight paper one. My homemade mask was suffocating, and my glasses fogged up so much while I was wearing it that I couldn’t see where I was walking!
I don’t like wearing a mask. Even the thinner ones are hot and difficult to breathe through. But I wear one in public because it’s wise and thoughtful during the pandemic. It’s a good way to show love to my neighbor.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, though, I sometimes wore a mask. Not a physical one, but a spiritual one. Our spiritual masks enable us to practice a kind of emotional “social distancing” from others. They provide just enough of a barrier between our “real” selves and others so that we don’t truly experience being brothers and sisters in Christ. Most importantly, our spiritual masks prevent us from fully enjoying the gifts of God the Father.
Jesus warns us about spiritual masks. In The Return of the Prodigal Son, inspired by the Rembrandt painting representing Jesus’ parable found in Luke 15, Henri Nouwen argues that the elder son in the parable is both lost and welcomed home in similar ways to the younger son. But rather than allowing himself to be embraced by the Father, the elder son holds back. He keeps his mask on, distancing himself from the celebration going on around him. He seems unwilling to take off the pride, jealously and fear that keeps him from joining the Father’s banquet. The parable’s lack of resolution of the elder’s son’s struggle, in Nouwen’s opinion, gives each of us the opportunity to think about the spiritual work we need to do to reveal ourselves fully to the Father.
I’m looking forward to the time when I don’t need to wear my paper mask. Even more, I am asking God to help me be more transparent and connected Him and with the family of faith. I want to take off my spiritual mask and enjoy the party. How about you?