PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — Unmasking Our Feelings

Context is everything.

As I was preparing for my sermon this week — on the wonderful Gospel story about Jesus, who on the day of his Resurrection, joined two of his followers as they walked the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus — I read the same comment at least three different times.

In the story, the two companions did not recognize who Jesus was until he broke bread in their home. Referring to their inability to identify him and God’s presence, the writers of the commentaries each said something along the lines of, “It’s not like Jesus wore a mask.” Like wearing a mask is a bad thing.

Oh how times have changed.

Of course, the writers were commenting on the concept that masks are used to hide people and keep others from seeing who they really are — to be deceptive and sneaky. Bank robbers wear masks so they won’t be identified. People put on emotional masks so as not to reveal their true intentions or desires. And people mask their words and actions to make something that is meant to be manipulative appear benign.

Masks as a rule have a negative connotation.

Ironically, now we are living in a time where wearing a mask reveals more about who a person is and where their heart lies.

A person who doesn’t wear a mask in this time of Great Separation is saying that they are at their core selfish, more concerned about their individual liberty than the collective good. Those who do wear masks are people who understand that sometimes we need to make sacrifices, not only for our own health but for the well-being of those around us.

Thinking about this concept of wearing masks and how our interpretation of it has changed in a matter of weeks, I decided to Google “wearing masks” and “The Bible” to see what came up. I knew a few passages that talk about where our hearts are and the revelation of the Spirit, but I couldn’t recall any that used the word mask.

The first entry I found was from The Message, the wonderful paraphrase by Eugene Peterson that seeks to get to the heart of what a passage intended with modern vernacular. He translated 2 Cor. 4:2 as, “We refuse to wear masks and play games. We don’t maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don’t twist God’s Word to suit ourselves. Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God.”

The essence of this passage is saying that people of faith are forthright and honest about who they are. They say what they mean and mean what they say, not trying to control things by being disingenuous or manipulative, but instead transparent and direct.

As we deal with a time when we need to wear a mask in order to be a law-abiding citizen who prioritizes the common good of the community, we need to hold close to the changing times and the importance of wearing a mask physically but not spiritually.

In other words, as we are separated, it is more important than ever to let down some of those internal masks and perhaps use this time as an opportunity to be even more deliberate in being true to who we are and honest and forthright about how we are feeling, to talk about or write about our anxieties and fears without agenda, and with an openness to God’s transformation in the face of fear.

It is imperative that as wearing masks in public becomes the new normal we do not transfer that same rationale of hiding ourselves as we interact with others. We are going to face a lot of challenges in the future that are unknown, and in order to do that, we need to be able to wear a mask externally to promote community and remove it internally to be faithful to building up a community.

This will be especially true as we continue to practice social distancing and have more and more meetings on Zoom. It will be easier to retreat into ourselves, or to not be straightforward as we deal with fears and uncertainties, which at its worst can lead to passive aggressive behavior as a means for manipulation and control.

Fear and uncertainty is hard, and wearing a mask is a way to deal with it. But as members of the community of Christ, we know that though external masks are vital to our survival during this time of pandemic, removing our internal masks are imperative to maintaining a healthy relationship with God and one another.

The Scriptures also tell us that, “Perfect love casts out all fear.” (I John 4:17). So rather than keeping your mask on inside and out, be honest with God and each other. Express your fears, deal with what is creating anxiety, and trust that we have a God who will hear and provide us a community of masked people who will unmask our hearts for spiritual healing and health.

Prayer: God who knows our hearts, help us to unmask ourselves to you, trusting that you will hear our fears and anxieties and provide a way to peace and assurance. As we deal with a time when we need to wear masks to be safe and care for the common good, help us to be open and honest about how we feel and compassionate to the concerns of others, seeking to build up the body of Christ in health and commitment to you. Amen. 

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