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The Spiritual Discipline of Wearing a Mask

Masks are not just good for our public health; they’re also good for our spiritual health

This column appeared in our September 14 issue under the title “Covered.”

Most world religions have their version of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s a basic societal norm and a trust upon which we build our communities.

Yet in a city where two-thirds of the population is either Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish, Calgary had to implement a face-covering bylaw for indoor public areas and public vehicles starting August 1. In July, Quebec was the first province to make masks mandatory. Similar bylaws have since been passed in Toronto, Edmonton and many other cities and regions.

One would think that wearing a mask for the sake of others wouldn’t be a big problem in our city.

And yet it is.

For Christians this is especially curious – given the nature of who Jesus was.

According to the Christian narrative, Jesus significantly self-limited for the sake of others. He freely emptied himself of his omniscience and omnipotence in order to incarnate as a frail and dependent newborn. The one who spoke the universe into being took on the limits of a human tongue and, in a very real sense, “masked up.”

Yet many of his followers haven’t been doing the same.

It makes no sense. It’s such a small thing to do for the sake of another person (even if the science on masks has been evolving).

To choose to wear a mask is not just good for our public health; it’s also good for our spiritual health.

Mask wearing is a sign of humility. It’s a way of visually acknowledging that you’re vulnerable, mortal and susceptible. In a world filled with asymptomatic coronavirus carriers, it is a way of showing others that you don’t know everything – that for all you know you could be infected right now.


Mask wearing is also a good way to join together with the human race. What better way to experience the fact that we’re all in this together than to walk into a grocery store and see everyone wearing a mask? All of us are part of one community, fighting this pandemic.

Perhaps our mask wearing can make us better global citizens, too. What if every time we felt the restriction of not being able to breathe freely, we took a few seconds to think about those who live in suffocating slums or those whose lives are in a perpetual systemic chokehold?

When your mask limits your ability to communicate clearly, perhaps you could let that moment remind you of the countless souls whose voices are never heard – the poor, the weak, those with disabilities, those who are discriminated against and those who are disenfranchised. So many people in our world live masked lives. Perhaps wearing a mask could help us to consider listening more and speaking less.

Even if you’re not feeling altruistically motivated in any of these ways, wearing a mask can still be good for you.

Right now, it looks like city-wide mask wearing is the only way we’re going to be able to keep our COVID-19 curve flat and keep our economy going. Think of our city businesses, educational institutions, non-profits and your future residential tax rates. Mask wearing will be economically good for all of us.

It’s not so surprising – that what’s good for others can also be good for you.

All it takes is putting a small piece of fabric over your mouth and nose when you’re in a public space (along with some good physical distancing and hand hygiene).

We can do that; it’s such a small thing for the greater good.

John’s sermon on “The Spiritual Practice of Wearing a Mask” can be found on the Marda Loop Church YouTube page. This originally appeared in the Calgary Herald online.


  • John Van Sloten

    John is a Calgary-based writer and the pastor at Calgary Community Reformed Church. He is the author of "The Day Metallica Came to Church" and "Every Job a Parable."

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