God, our Neighbor in Isolation

You, God, who live next door:
If at times, through the long night, I trouble you
with my urgent knocking—
this is why: I hear you breathe so seldom.
I know you’re all alone in that room.
If you should be thirsty, there’s no one
to get you a glass of water.
I wait listening, always. Just give me a sign!
I’m right here.

As it happens, the wall between us
is very thin. Why couldn’t a cry
from one of us
break it down? It would crumble
it would barely make a sound.
Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours I, 6

This segment from Rilke’s Book of Hours really speaks to me in this time of isolation and social distancing. God is always our neighbor, separated from us by the thinnest wall. But we treat the wall if it were impenetrable. How easily we forget that Jesus identifies with us and with the least of his brothers and sisters. God is just as much in need of conversation as we are in this time of coronavirus.

Theology has done such a miserable job of translating the words and actions of Jesus into the words and actions of the Church. We truly have veered off into abstractions and we have turned Jesus into someone so remote that we have to go through endless levels of saints and priestly intercessors to reach him. All the while he is right here, right next to us, separated by the thinnest wall imaginable. Just down the street, just next door, just in the other room. He shares our solitude. He invites us to give him a drink. And by doing so we are giving it to one of the least of his brothers and sisters. He is here to teach how to be human, how to be one of the least of his brothers and sisters! We are all in this together. And he is one of us! Let’s take a break from calling him “Christ our God”. Let’s try calling him “Christ our Brother” for a little while. Let’s see what that does to our mental and imaginative vocabulary. Rilke knew this vocabulary. I like Rilke. I want to speak like him.

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