Whenever the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, I often reflect back upon the prior year and Thanksgiving celebrations of the past. Year to year, often so much changes. This year, of course, has been an extreme example in this regard. At a minimum, these last months have introduced concepts and words and ways of being I’d never heard not long ago.

Before this time, how many of us had heard the phrase, “let’s do a zoom call.” Then there is the concept of social distancing. If I had encountered these words 10 months ago I would have assumed someone was suggesting they did not want a person within their social circles. The idea of a color-coded COVID-19 dial would have been totally bizarre as would the concept of keeping gatherings to 5 people or less from no more than two households.

But one more thing I would have never envisioned is the use of facemasks. While I support the use of facemasks without any hesitation, am more than willing to subvert “my rights” to the cause of the greater good, and honestly believe we should all be asking what is better for the person around me than what I want, the presence of facemasks has changed much.

It used to be that folks would smile and say hello when passing. Or a person driving by would wave or honk because they recognized you as you walked. Or that people in a restaurant, grocery store, or place of business would acknowledge you. But with masks on, it sometimes can be virtually impossible to tell who is on the other side. This is problematic.

Many well done studies over the decades illustrate that we convey far more nonverbally than we do with words. Facial expressions are a key form of nonverbal communication. It is evident that during this pandemic, we clearly are missing a lot of what people around us are trying to get across. That is the bad news. There is good news, however.

That good news, we can be more intentional about looking into people’s eyes and paying more attention to other nonverbal cues. We can use this time when we are with others, whether in person or on zoom, to be particularly attentive to them in ways we might have ignored before. Perhaps we can pay more attention, listen more carefully, and create the space for people to communicate with us more effectively.

My prayer and hope is that when these terrible times are over, we will care more about each other, celebrate the fact we can be together, and relish discerning what the faces of those around us might be saying to us.

My friends, as we approach Thanksgiving many of us are feeling disconnected with those around us. Physical masks have a lot to do with this. Although this is the case, perhaps we can use the physical masks we are wearing as an invitation to do something else. That is, to shed the other kinds of masks we sometimes put on in the presence of others that impede others from knowing us as we really are. When we shed such masks, we will find ourselves more intimately connected with others at a time in which we desperately need to be known and understood as we are.

As we each think about this, I invite us all to turn to God in prayer, giving thanks that we are never disconnected from God and that our Lord loves us as we are, no matter who we are, or wherever we are in our life journey.