“Touch me not,” according to John 20:17, is what Jesus said to Mary Magdalene when she recognized him after his resurrection.How do I, an avowed Christian atheist, understand these words? First, I take them together with Christ’s answer to his disciple’s question as to how we will know that he is returned, resurrected. Christ says he will be there whenever there is love between his believers. He will be there not as a person to touch, but as the bond of love and solidarity between people—so, “do not touch me, touch and deal with other people in the spirit of love.”Today, however, in the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, we are all bombarded precisely by calls not to touch others but to isolate ourselves, to maintain a proper corporeal distance. What does this mean for the injunction “touch me not?” Hands cannot reach the other person; it is only from within that we can approach one another—and the window onto “within” is our eyes. These days, when you meet someone close to you (or even a stranger) and maintain a proper distance, a deep look into the other’s eyes can disclose more than an intimate touch.

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