(For background – See A Short Teaching on Unclean from my perspective here: A Short Teaching on Unclean)
Leprosy has never really completely left us. In 2011, I had the privilege to visit and minister to a community of Lepers (I will resist telling you where).
It was only at night. We would never be able to find them in the day time but at night they would come to a designated meeting place. The population subject to rumor and prejudice are openly antagonistic and violent in abuse of the lepers.
We’d set up chairs and break out the musical instruments. It was an all night banquet. We shared plenty of food, music, preaching and fellowship. Injuries were attended to, physicals conducted and dental work performed in tents erected right in the middle of the street in the middle of a city in the middle of a regional Capitol.
But of all the things we did the fellowship and the exercise of our common humanity was the most precious to all of us. When the Sun began to rise, they people melted into the background. We broke camp and left no trace of the Holy Isolation.
We were in Holy Isolation.
Maybe we have forgotten the story of Miraim (Numbers chapter12). Well, she had a disagreement with Moses and maybe a bit jealous of him. She spoke out and the Lord was not at all happy about it. He descended in a cloud and when the cloud departed Miriam was a white-leper. Aaron and Moses interceded for her and begged mercy. The Lord agreed but no until she spent 7 days outside the camp.
and the people did not start out again until she was brought back (Num 12:15b).
This became the standard. Going forward there is an additional story about Miriam. It is told that one time Miriam was sick and unable to proceed. Yet the cloud rose from the dwelling tent signaling the time to go forward. But they did not go. They did not move. For Miriam was ill and could not travel.
And the Lord smiled. He lowered then He lifted the cloud again.
His children refused him because one of them was ill.
And the Lord cried tears of Joy.
Ever since, for as long as human kind chose to remember, any and all who had to be outside the camp were given everything they needed. They were kept as close as close would allow. It became the exercise of our common humanity which was the most precious to all of us.
Which Side of the Wall Are We?
Does it them matter which side of the wall we are on? Does it matter who is my favorite or most favored.
No, we settled this question three Millennia ago. If one is sick, we are all sick. No one journeys until we all can journey.
A Hermit and Confessor, c.400, the story goes…
Because of their isolation and their sometimes strange forms of self-denial and penance, the lives of these desert fathers gave rise to a number of fabulous tales, none more richly imaginative than that of Onuphrius and Paphnutius. It seems that Paphnutius was a fifth-century abbot who left his Monastery to go into the desert to see if the hermit’s life was meant for him. After wandering about for days, he saw a strange creature approaching him: it seemed to be a man, but he had hair and a beard that fell to his feet and was unclothed except for a band of leaves around his waist. Paphnutius was about to run from the sight in fear, when the old man spoke to him and assured him that he was a man and a servant of God. It was, in fact, Onuphrius, who took Paphnutius to his cell and there told the abbot his story: he had come to the desert sixty years before, and ever since had lived in complete solitude, suffering continually from hunger, thirst, heat, cold, and temptations. His only food was dates from the palm tree beside his cell, his only consolation the knowledge that he was doing the will of God. That night the two men prayed together, and in the morning Onuphrius died, after first assuring Paphnutius that he had been sent there precisely for the purpose of burying him. The abbot did this, whereupon the cell and the palm tree immediately vanished, a sign that he was not to remain in the desert.
We are meant in this current age to head to the desert. COVID-19 is taking us there, impelling us to go into the desert. We are meant to be there. We are meant to do something or one thing or another. Each of us to our own competencies. And we are called there but for a while and eventually a sign we are not to remain and the crisis will pass.
Holy Isolation – What will we do?
This is our desert time.
As God did not create man for life in isolation, but for the formation of social unity, so also “it has pleased God to make men holy and save them not merely as individuals, without bond or link between them, but by making them into a single people, a people which acknowledges Him in truth and serves Him in holiness.” So from the beginning of salvation history He has chosen men not just as individuals but as members of a certain community. Revealing His mind to them, God called these chosen ones “His people” (Ex. 3:7-12), and even made a covenant with them on Sinai. (GAUDIUM ET SPES, 32).
Br Prudent, Be Holy
One does not exclude the other. Holy embraces the virtue prudence. Holy enlightens prudent to its best form.