Veiled faces are all I see these days. Squinty, hungry eyes probing above the provisional cloth façade, always seeking something more. “Do I know you?” they inquire, searching for other discernable characteristics, trying to form a portrait, without the most prominent feature. Like a puzzle with missing pieces. “Are you still there, as you were before? Because you now seem so far away. I miss your smile.”
It has been easy to hide these last few months, hasn’t it? More than just mandates, we have perhaps become too adept at keeping to ourselves, with protective, cautious, and even suspicious manners. Oh yes, I know, it’s out of love and respect for our neighbors and loved ones. Believe me! I comply! And I do it out of love! But I am missing something in my soul. I am missing your smile.
In it, I see personality and character from deep in your core explode into the open, vulnerable expression of laughter, delight, whimsy or inquiry, shyness or exuberance, kindness and welcome. I see engagement and invitation. I get to connect with you. But it seems a little harder now. Masks make it so easy to disconnect.
I’ve been wondering about the many other kinds of masks we wear too. Let us be honest. We all have times when we want to put up that subtle, invisible shield, that helps us keep a safe distance. Maybe we put in our earbuds in the grocery store. They signal “do not engage”. Sunglasses work too. It’s hard to tell what someone is thinking behind mirrored lenses. Our phones are useful to hide anxiety, or fear of rejection, or insecurity. With them we can feign superiority, relevance, because we are too busy, too needed, too important to look up from them and share something of ourselves. Facebook is another outward display that can so easily shield an inward truth. Friends tell friends “I am happier and younger and richer and more successful than….” whom? Than we really are? Oh, the superficialities we cover ourselves with to hide, to protect and deflect. Masks are very handy that way. They keep so much out. They keep so much out.
Did I mention I am tired of wearing a mask? If this pandemic has done anything, it has asked us to look at ourselves closely, honestly, day in and day out, in the mirror. We may be able to hide from others on the outside, but we cannot hide from ourselves. We cannot hide from God. So we come face to face with ourselves. We are older and more fragile than we let on. We are more tender than tough. And yet tougher than we knew. Oh So Tired and sometimes afraid. We cry at beauty, and that is a gift. Tears heal us sometimes, but we never tell that to anyone. We ache over past hurts and yearn for reconciliation in ways we cannot yet say. We would like to laugh more and forgive it all. To tell everyone “I am sorry”. And also “Forgive me, too”. Could we start anew? I miss your smile.
Could we take off our masks, now? Then I know we could be healed.
There’s an old story of Moses who went up to the mountaintop and encountered the glory of the Lord. His face was so brilliant, so radiant, that he had to cover his face when he came down the mountain to be with the people of God. They could not bear the light. But in time, that glory began to fade, and Moses continued to wear the veil, to cover the fact that the light was now waning from his face. (Paul reminds us of this story in 2 Corinthians 3:7-18.) The veil kept the people at a distance from Moses, so they could not see the truth. It covered their hearts and made their minds dull. So he had not choice, but to keep hiding. It’s a tough place to be. It’s hard to keep up pretenses, indefinitely.
But that is not our story! Our story is one of freedom. Freedom to be truly the people that God ordained us to be long before “one of our days came into being.” (Psalm 139:16) Ours is a story of an unveiling, like an artist lifting the drape from his Magnum Opus. Like a groom, lifting the veil from the head of his new bride, so that he may see her beaming face, that he may see her smile. In Christ, our veil is removed, so that He can reveal in us his beautiful, radiant masterpiece He has made in each of us uniquely. But more than that. As we begin to find our lives in Jesus, and grow in that relationship, we are being changed into his likeness more and more. Every day, we are becoming more and more the reflection of the Lord’s glory, his Son Jesus. (John 1:14) So you see, those silly masks we have been wearing have been hiding our most prominent feature – the Glory of the Lord in us.
Even though we endure for a little while longer, wearing our bandanas or N95’s, I pray for God’s ever-increasing glory to shine more fully in each of us. I pray we will strip away all that keeps us from truly reaching out and loving each other. I want to see your smile. I want to see who God has made behind your phone, your sunglasses, behind the frightened eyes that glance away. I want to know you. No more pretenses. No more shields. For we are completely loved in Jesus. We do not have to be embarrassed or awkward or shy about the new thing God wants to do. This unmasking, this revelation is what He has been hoping for so long…what I dare say WE have been hoping for so long! That WE can truly be WE! And we are on the brink. Think for one moment, what this can mean, if WE are truly WE. What shall we do with the light in our faces? Even now, I see the slightest, little grin behind your mask, a hopeful, gleeful, restrained contortion, trying not to break into a full-throated belly-laugh. Go ahead. Please. For the glory of God!
“For whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” 2 Corinthians 3:16
“And we, who with unveiled faces, all reflect the Lord’s glory,
are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory.” 2 Corinthians 3:18
“For God, who said, “let light shine out of darkness” made his light shine in our hearts”.
2 Corinthians 4:6
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16