America needs to pray. Please, Mr. President, don’t tell me when or where. The Whitehouse has left a key component out of its guidelines about reopening: the way the virus multiplies when you pack people into indoor spaces. There is an exponential quality to it. If you double the number of people in a room or double the amount of time they spend in that room, you more than quadruple the chance of infection because you have increased both the likelihood of an asymptomatic participant and the number of breaths that are shared. In crowds, masks are helpful, but not sufficient. They reduce the number of viruses escaping into each breath, but the risk quickly climbs to unacceptable when you multiply 20 breaths per minute times a hundred people for an hour. That’s assuming that no one coughs. Have you ever tried to go for an hour without coughing or sneezing or shouting or singing? Only a fool would leave the exponential effect of crowds on this contagion out of their calculations.
The church I attend has done an amazing job of providing online worship services. Each Sunday, I go down in my pajamas and google-cast the 10 am service onto the TV set (No, I do not refer to Pastor John as a televangelist). If we need to be back into our church building this week in order to pray, it’s news to me. Returning now, while my locality is still reporting new cases every day, would mean not singing, not going to the coffee hour, not sitting near anyone else, and not welcoming any strangers who might show up. Jesus told the Samaritan woman that worship was not a matter of where you are, but of spirit and truth (John 4:21-24). Both of these are more likely to be present when you aren’t afraid that the person beside you will make you sick.
Call me a skeptic, but I don’t believe the president has a dog in this fight. Churches are small potatoes in his drive to get the economy open. He needs crowds in schools, sports stadiums, beaches, and bars. As to prayer, did he ever consider what Jesus taught? The Lord said don’t go into crowds to pray because that’s what hypocrites do when they want to be seen praying. “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” (Matthew 6:5-6) It may be a dangerous thing if America spends a few more weeks praying in isolation. We might begin to learn in our worship deeper lessons: compassion for the sick and their caregivers, mindfulness of those in prison, and the importance of the least and the lost to our society. No, I’m not staying home from church because I lack faith. I’m staying home because I’m constantly seeking it.