A Spiritual Act

We are in a new moment in New Orleans. We have begun to leave our homes more often, and many businesses have reopened. We have begun to share public space with greater frequency and for longer durations of time. We have begun to meet in doctors’ offices and in beauty salons. We are skirting by one another in restaurants and at gyms. Some have tried to worship together. Each one of us, whether director, owner, employee, patron or parishioner, is making calculations about our essential needs and what actions we must take to meet them. We are asking ourselves what risks are appropriate in size and potential benefit as we reenter the world. We have questions and doubts in abundance. But what is beyond question and without doubt is that we must wear masks.

Masks are usually how we hide our identities. Whether it’s for revelry during Carnival or for a more sinister or criminal purpose, masks provide us the tools to barricade our identity from the rest of the world. During our festival of Purim that celebrates the courage and authenticity of Queen Esther, wearing a mask is a religious act that emphasizes, through irony, the importance of being ourselves by pretending to be someone else. But for such a time as this, in another ironic twist, wearing a mask does not hide who we are but rather reveals who we are. 

Masks are not particularly pleasant or convenient, and in some cases they may even be uncomfortable. But we must wear them everywhere we go to protect one another, and we must strive to ensure that everyone has access to them. Most of us will not be donning masks that can fully protect us from inhaling the virus. But we have learned that cloth over a nose and mouth can drastically reduce our transmission of the virus, catching and stopping our aerosolized droplets before they reach another mouth or nose or surface.  And that is why wearing an uncomfortable, inconvenient, awkward face covering when we are around others is revealing. It is a gesture of love as pure as a tender embrace or the giving of charity.

I would like to invite us to consider the presence of a mask on a face as a taking of a spiritual stand, a valiant rejection of the offensive notion that we must vote alike or agree with one another to love one another, that we have to align politically to seek one another’s health and safety. There are those who place wearing a mask in a partisan light and who attribute a political agenda to the act. But we must push back against this at every opportunity. Wearing a mask is not a political statement. It is a faith statement. It says, “I love you as I love myself. So I will protect you as I would wish to be protected.”

Inside our homes in the past few months, with most of our common places closed, masks were a less pressing matter. But that moment is over. We are trying to reopen our lives safely, something we all desperately want, and masks are one of our most important tools to preserve one another’s lives. Many religious traditions teach that each person has a Divine spark inside of us. There is no more powerful way, in this critical time, to let the world know it’s there than by wearing a mask. In these months when we have been so distant from one another physically, and in these years when we have become so distant from one another politically, masks are a way to bare our souls and to, with a strip of cloth, represent God’s face and embody God’s love in the world. Our masks will show one another what’s inside our hearts: a deep love of God and God’s creations, our fellow human beings.