There is much debate going on about the efficacy of wearing face coverings or masks, now mandatory in shops and on public transport in England. Many people believe these are helpful in reducing the spread of the coronavirus, whilst others feel the fabric or disposable face masks available do little to prevent aerosol transmission and can even be harmful in some ways.
Few of us like wearing these kinds of masks, but the truth is all of us, from being children, have got used to wearing invisible masks of a different kind. In Greek theatre, actors used masks to represent different characters, and it’s from this practice that the idea of hypocrisy (pretending to be something that you aren’t) and ‘play-acting’ arose.
We all tend to put up ‘fronts’ or ‘masks’ to protect ourselves from hurt. When we see governments doing this, we call it ‘spin.’ When we do it ourselves, we call it ‘image’. It’s often a defence mechanism, to present to other people an ‘acceptable’ image, to hide our faults and flaws behind the mask because we fear rejection and pain. Often, we don’t really like who we are inside, so we pretend to be somebody different. Social media is a particularly insidious kind of mask, for we can very easily cultivate the perfect image on there – the best partner, parent, cook, worker, gardener, builder, crafter etc. – which is in reality nothing but a snapshot of the real us.
God wants us to be real with Him and with each other, and this means taking off the masks. When I come out of a shop, I thankfully remove my mask and feel relief at being able to breathe freely again. So too there is great freedom in being open, honest and real with God and with other people. NIcky Gumbel says, ‘instead of trying to impress people with our masks, we connect through our vulnerabilities.’ This may seem scary, daunting and difficult, but it’s the path to truly deep relationships and to freedom. Living without a mask is risky – but in the spiritual realm, it’s definitely worth it!