This acrostic was written during the Covid-19 pandemic in the summer of 2021, when we were officially allowed hugs once more.
At first we thought it would not last very long,
This ‘new normal’ of elbow-bumps – we were wrong.
It became a time to refrain from embracing,
Mouthing our kisses from a two-metre spacing.
Encountering friends, we stopped short and withdrew,
Touching became a luxury, hugs became taboo.
Old folk close to death could not understand
Eye-moist loved ones who would not hold their hand,
Masks covered lips that craved a final kiss –
Bidding last farewells was never meant to be like this.
Relatives and friends severed by borders and oceans
Awaited a chance to share long-suppressed emotions.
Covid’s grip is loosening: soon we’ll re-discover touch,
Embracing friends and family we’ve missed so very much.
Embracing is important in the Bible. It suggests love, surrender, trust, joy and perhaps relief at being reunited with close family and friends. Sometimes it expresses forgiveness and reconciliation.
Laban and Jacob were reconciled through an embrace (Gen 29:13), as were Jacob and Esau (Gen 33:4). Joseph, his brothers and father repeatedly embraced as past wrongs were forgiven and mutual trust restored (Gen 45:14, 46:29; 48:10; 50:1). There is much love and embracing in the Song of Solomon (8:3), whilst the forgiving father embraces his prodigal son (Luke 15:20). With good reason, the Ephesian elders, fearing they would never again see Paul, embraced him as he left (Acts 20:37).
So it’s no surprise when the ‘Time for Everything’ poem in Ecclesiastes (3:1-8) tells us there is ‘a time to embrace’. Most of the couplets in this poem make perfect sense, but I had always wondered why there might be ‘a time to refrain from embracing’. Perhaps it might relate to enemies or to situations of unresolved grievance, or maybe metaphorically about embracing false doctrine? Possibly it could relate to infectious diseases; indeed, Jesus touched the untouchables.
Then Covid-19 struck. During a global pandemic we were instructed to keep our distance. Babies went a year without being hugged by grandparents. Dying relatives could only be waved at through a screen. Aged parents in nursing homes could only receive a mouthed kiss through a window. It was a terrible time that caused some real heartbreak. It was a time to refrain from embracing.
I wrote this acrostic for our church magazine just as the vaccination programme was starting to kick in and regulations were being relaxed. Hugging was once more allowed, as was international travel. We have just returned from Spain (September 2022) with hardly any restrictions, just a vaccination certificate and mask-wearing on public transport. A year previously it was a major rigmarole. The year before that we had to cancel our planned visit to family.
Before the memory of Covid-19 fades too much, it’s worth pausing to remember the importance of embrace, and how much we missed it. And, whilst horrible things happen, a couple of verses later Ecclesiastes reminds us of the bigger picture in which good and bad fall into context: ‘God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart…’ (Eccles. 3:11).
(A Time to Embrace acrostic appears on my Old Testament: History, Law and Poetry page).