What To Do With All These Numbers and Faces

By Sam Jolman | April 3, 2020

Here we all sit hunkered down in our house bunkers. We seem to have two things in abundance these days.

There are numbers. Lots of numbers.

There are big growing numbers like coronavirus infection rates and unemployment filings and days left in our collective quarantine. There are numbers that keep falling like available ventilators and doctor masks and the stock market and maybe your bank account. And there are numbers that pierce our hearts: the consecutive hours and days doctors and nurses have worked, the increase in domestic violence and abuse cases, and the precious lives being lost to the virus itself.

Its hard to peal away from all this information and the pundits and experts trying to tell our future from them.

But we have something else in abundance too. We have faces. Lots and lots of faces. 

From Zoom meetings to FaceTime to Facebook live music concerts to those cool group choir videos. Just this week alone, our family did church and work and friendships and school and doctor visits all as video sessions. That’s a lot of faces. Maybe my favorite so far has been my men’s group. We traded our coffee shop back corner for a Zoom live feed on each other’s mornings, complete with rising sun and rising children. Amidst job loss and financial stress and heavy hearts, this time together has never felt more crucial to our care.

And there are the faces of those we are hunkered down with. For me that’s my family. For others it may be friends or roommates or the mischievous face of a furry friend. I am amazed at how often I behold my children’s faces in a day now. It isn’t always as sweet as that just sounded. It’s often to put out fights or get food or help them find something to do. But I’ve been able to take in their faces to hear about the dream they had or the struggle with their brother and really watch how they animate their stories with impassioned expression. 

Pre pandemic, it’s amazing how much of a day we could go without really looking at each other. Life faced forward all the time. Life was getting people ready for basketball or piano or church or some other destination. Life was looking at the road on the drive. Now here we sit staring at each other and time to do it all the more. Its a strange but welcome grace. 

Practicing The Presence of Faces

Which brings me to the whole point to all this. We can practice the presence of the numbers or practice the presence of the faces around us. 

I braved the chaos of Costco a week ago to get a few family supplies and found the place half pillaged – the frozen vegetables, the meat, and of course the toilet paper. I stood in awe at the entire aisle of limitless cases of bottled water. A guy on a fork lift brought out a pallet of toilet paper and caused a small stampede. I watched hoping no one planned to use it as TP substitute. Yet for all of it, people were more somber and quiet than angry and obviously scared. But almost no one made eye contact. People either stared at their lists or hunted for spoils

I found the end of the line a quarter mile back from the registers and started my slow cart commute. Half way to the front, I caught the eyes of the woman ahead of me. She turned, smiled, and said hello. We chatted for just a minute. Any other time I wouldn’t have thought twice about this. But that night when everyone was surviving, she just gave me her face and she was kind. It really settled my heart. I said to myself as we moved forward, “Everything is going to be okay.”

Last Saturday, I broke myself away from a news binge and emerged from my house again to get some apocalypse supplies. No one was out but a few. I got my wares, and headed home. Almost to my house, I saw my neighbor unloading some bikes form his car. We stopped to talk as neighbors do – me in my car, him in his driveway. And despite sharing with each other the daily difficulties, I noticed we were both smiling. We commiserated yes, but we connected. I left with my smile stuck on my face. And again my heart said, “I think we’re going to be alright.”

Two faces in a world of chaos that brought me calm. 

The Gift of your face

Did you know your face is a gift? 

Your face is the symbol of what is most uniquely you. We are not so easily recognized by our feet or hands or any other body part. Just ask any two year old who’s clung to the wrong set of dad legs at a gathering only to find a foreign face staring down at him. It’s why we brighten up when we finally catch the face of the person we love. 

And your face can say a lot. The human face has 43 muscles total. And of those, only four are used for chewing. That leaves the remains 39 muscles for facial expression. You get to play with 39 muscles when you talk. And your face speaks a universal language. Researchers have determined our faces communicate emotions recognized across cultures. You can speak to anyone you want to. 

When hugs and handshakes and proximity have been banished, engaging face to face with someone is actually a way fo sharing affection. At the sight of someone we love, our bodies release the hormone oxytocin. Its the same one released when we are touched or hugged or held. You know that feeling you get when someone smiles at you? Yep, that’s oxytocin.

So who’s face gives you calm? Who’s face is reassuring for you? Many people just flashed before my eyes. Who are they for you? And who do you sense would want to see your face, needs to see your face? 

God’s Smile

My favorite text in the Bible about God’s heart is the Aaronic blessing. I love it because its so ridiculously indulgent. The point of the whole blessing is really to tell you that God’s is smiling at you. That’s it. And in a very short text, its mentioned twice just in case you didn’t get it. Here it is to refresh your memory from Numbers 6.

“The Lord bless you

    and keep you;

the Lord make his face shine on you

    and be gracious to you;

the Lord turn his face toward you

    and give you peace.”

Numbers 6:23-25 (NIV)

When someone is excited to see you, we say his face lights up. That’s the message here. God has no intention of leaving you wondering what he feels when he sees you. He’s beaming!

Finding Yourself

Are you worn out of Zoom-call-everything world? There are probably some faces you need to take a break from. But there are people you need to keep revisiting a lot over the next few weeks, to see and be seen.

When the numbers you see take the heart right out of you in these days. When you can’t pull away from our collective car crash. When you can’t get your bearings for the weight of your grief, seek faces. Seek kind faces. Seek the ones you love and those that love you. 

And seek the face of God. Ask him what he wants to say to you. Ask him to give you his face. One day we will see again the human face of Jesus smiling with joy at us. But for now we are invited to rest in what he says with confidence we can imagine it to be. His smile is the mirror of who you are.

I leave you with this poem from David Whyte called Blessing for the Light.

“I thank you, light, again,

for helping me to find

the outline of my daughter’s face,

I thank you light, for the subtle way

your merest touch gives shape

to such things I could

only learn to love

through your delicate instruction,

and I thank you, this morning

waking again,

most intimately and secretly

for your visible invisibility,

the way you make me look

at the face of the world

so that everything, becomes

an eye to everything else

and so that strangely,

I also see myself being seen,

so that I can be born again

in that sight, so that

I can have this one other way

along with every other way,

to know that I am here.”

From The Bell and the Blackbird, April 2018 © David Whyte and Many Rivers Press

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