The host begins hosting from the moment they send an invite. An invite is a priming device. It says, “I’m going to be creating this temporary alternative world.” Through that story she reminded them of years past, how meaningful it was throughout the years. And they named the need. And they gave a solution: This year, when we can’t come together, why don’t we try something different? Why don’t we try this on Zoom?

This invitation did a lot of work. It told a story and brought it along with her. And it used humor.

Apart from the obvious ways to think about staying safe, the power dynamics are different. For better or worse, it’s not as easy to interrupt a Zoom call as it is an in-person gathering. It’s very difficult, if you don’t have control of the mute button, to change a gathering, particularly as a guest!

I think, overall, guests have less power in most Zoom gatherings than we do in in-person gatherings. It’s hard to say, “Hey, can we do it another way?” It’s also easier to be checked out, or distracted. We’re not all in the same room and everyone has a different context around them. A lot of us are on video calls all day and you can have Zoom fatigue! And we’re missing a lot of the physical ways we interact. And smell, and taste! This is an opportunity to invent around this.

I spoke recently to the TriFaith Initiative, an intentionally co-located group of congregations of Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths in Omaha. I spoke to 400 of their community members last week over Zoom about gathering while we’re apart. And someone brought up the question of smell. How do we bring in our senses into our gatherings, even while we’re apart?

I believe this is a moment where we can create rituals to create a common experience even while we’re apart. For example, if you’re wanting to create an opening moment or ritual for your group to all have the same sensorial experience at the same time to mark a beginning, invite everyone to bring cinnamon (or nutmeg!) to their computer, at the outset of the meal and all smell a pinch of it together at the same time. (It can be any flavor that represents your food, or community, or this moment in time.) We are at the very beginning of inventing different ways to be apart, together.



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