As places close down here in South Africa and guidelines about social distancing go into effect, I’m thinking a lot about doors and borders. We need to make some decisions about staying, leaving, timing, what options hold the best opportunities for serving others, for helping protect the health of others, for staying healthy ourselves.
Choosing to be separated from others, trusting that we are connected even when we are physically distanced, has been part of our commitment to global missions from the start. But now, it’s imperative.
I’m learning a lot about what feeds and sustains me when I’m subject to the necessary limitations on my movement that come with being in different places. I’m learning some new habits and leaning harder into old ones.
Silly samples: If I can’t go outside, stand up, stretch, move around—even if that’s doing jumping jacks and push ups (but, yay, this isn’t gym class–I’m not being graded) or dancing (no one can see me, except my spouse who has seen me look far dorkier than this). Look out the window—How many different greens can I see? What would I name them if I were putting them on paint chips? Learn something new—What’s the best way to eat a papaya? Slice, deseed, scoop? Or, peel, cut, scoop? Try both. Is there another option? What is that bug?
Serious samples: Exercise. Become more observant of the abundance around us. Eat healthy. Try new things.
Then sit down and do the work I’ve been given to do. (Not everyone’s work is done sitting, but a lot of mine is). I have prayed endlessly in the past for more time to work on these things. Here it is. Go.
And pray. I’ve been trying to commit more prayers to memory and trying to soak up more scripture so it comes to mind more easily, more rapidly. I want to live an intertextual life–one in which my life and the wisdom and images from scripture come into conversation more readily, where the biblical story more fluently informs and shapes my story.
Here’s an image from the Bible that’s coming to mind as we pray and think about what it means to be closed off, to shut ourselves away for a time, to close doors and borders. Jesus, the door or gate (in the NRSV) of the sheepfold.
Many Christians are familiar with the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Jesus as the door is part of the shepherd and sheepfold imagery found in John 10. Here’s John 10:1-10 (NRSV):
“‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.'”
This pandemic seems a lot like a bandit who has snuck into the sheepfold and threatens the sheep. I am not thinking of Jesus, the gate, as keeping us safe from getting the virus. That’s just not the case. Contact with Jesus is not a guarantee against getting the illness. Contact with the virus gets people sick. Keep washing your hands.
But in a time when some people are shutting doors because it’s the wise thing to do, others feel like doors are being shut on them, and borders are being closed, it’s helpful to remember that Jesus called himself the door.
I am the Door of the Sheepfold
Not one that’s gently hinged or deftly hung,
Not like the ones you planed at Joseph’s place,
Not like the well-oiled openings that swung
So easily for Pilate’s practiced pace,
Not like the ones that closed in Mary’s face
From house to house in brimming Bethlehem,
Not like the one that no man may assail,
The dreadful curtain, The forbidding veil
That waits your breaking in Jerusalem.
Not one you made but one you have become:
Load-bearing, balancing, a weighted beam
To bridge the gap, to bring us within reach
Of your high pasture. Calling us by name,
You lay your body down across the breach,
Yourself the door that opens into home.
There are powers worse than pandemics. There are bandits more threatening than viruses. Jesus is the door that opens into home. Even when physical doors need to be closed. Even when physical borders need to be shut. Gaps are bridged between us by this door. We are brought in reach of high pasture, even when we can’t reach one another.
I don’t yet know what the best course of action is for us regarding crossing physical borders at the present. I do know we can rely on Jesus the door to be with us across any breach, including the breach of being apart.