Every now and again I have a moment of clarity that seems a tad negative...even for a girl who considers herself to be at least somewhat cynical. Still this morning at the place I attend church each Sunday, I was moved to think "what if?" with not just a little skepticism about what the church (as I've experienced it - mainline denomination-style)can do and offer those of us who have by and large outgrown the institution and don't feel quite at home anymore.
Each week during the principal service in my parish we have a few moments in the middle of the service (post-sermon, pre-Eucharist) where we offer prayers for people who had a birthday that week or for people who are going to be traveling somewhere. We also offer prayers for people who are celebrating their wedding anniversaries. I've always kind of liked this part of the service - many of the members of my church are pretty advanced in age. I feel like they deserve to be celebrated along with the children, who often seem to be growing up before my eyes.
Today, after the usual birthday and traveling prayers, our priest asked if anyone had an anniversary to celebrate. A young man who has just recently begun attending services with us got up and said he was celebrating his third anniversary of "working." Some of the folks who are ordinarily in our midst looked at one another and rolled their eyes at this "newbie." A few seemed happy with his announcement. Our priest quickly offered a prayer for him, and we moved on to Eucharist. This young man has been playing guitar (and some other instruments) with an outreach program of the parish for the past year or so. I've seen him and spoke to him at some of the recitals and performances of the group.
It occurred to me, again, how much it seems we in the church (or perhaps in my church) are missing the message about community that Jesus seemed so hellbent on modeling. What if...we were a place where people could stand up and announce their sobriety anniversary, whether it was one day, one month, one year? What if we could share, out loud, that we are struggling with what to do with our feelings about heaven, hell and the afterlife and not fear being labeled a heretic? What would happen if someone stood up and announced to the community his infidelity and asked the group to heal both he and his spouse? How would we, as a community, be different if we were able to actually speak of such raw, painful things with the people we say are our community? It would seem we would be much closer. We would be much more invested in one another.
The realistic part of me recognizes the danger in such openness. Of course it invites judgment, and sometimes further isolation. Still, it seems in my other close communities (albeit these are smaller groups of folks)...if someone has a particularly bad weekend, or something really great happens or someone is struggling with a health issue...we all talk about it. We text each other, we talk on the phone, we email jokes about it. We may laugh, we might cry, but ultimately we care for one another. Of course nothing is perfect, still it seems that we know how to love each other pretty well most days. Still, it seems the church isn't by design a place to be honest with each other or to love each other unconditionally. How paradoxical.
This strikes me as tragic. After all what's the point? As someone at the festival I was at recently articulated better than I can...do you really think God needs you to say the right words or praise Him/Her? Do you think Jesus is concerned with praise songs and lovely sentiments shared aloud? Really? Is that what we were made for? I don't think so. We were designed for community - we were meant for one another. How can we care for one another if we don't really even know one another? If I'm unaware of my brother's struggles, how do I pray for him? How do I love him? Love implies a certain level of intimacy. A certain knowledge. While I recognize this is risky, difficult stuff, I can't help but think it's what Jesus called us to, as the church.
I've been fascinated with Mary Magdalene for a long time. Her feast day just passed a few days ago. Depending upon who you believe (the Catholics vs. Orthodox) after Jesus died, she disappeared. She lived her last 30 years in a cave in the southern part of France. She was so distraught at the loss of her Jesus (and my interpretation)her community, that she lived in isolation, where she allegedly had many divine experiences of Jesus in her final years, but ones that were mostly alone.
My point in throwing Mary into all of this talk about community is to say that her passion for this Jewish carpenter was so strong, that when he was no longer there in the flesh, she ran to a cave to hide out from the world. Community was no longer something she could take the risk to commit to. I find this very tragic. And yet, I get it. Community is hard. It's counter-intuitive. It's radical. It requires a commitment, an openness, a mercy that I cannot always find in my own heart. It's complicated and messy. It can't be accomplished in an hour on Sunday morning. It probably can't be accomplished completely in a lifetime. Still, I find this more and more, my call.
To be part of...to build...to grow...to encourage...perhaps even to dare to love those that are around me...to build community, one life at a time. Even when it's hard or seems complicated and messy. While I'd like to think I'm a peacemaker at heart, I recognize my own hard-headed-ness enough to know that I, too, need growing up, transformation, conversion. At the end of the day, I hope I get there. And I hope I'm surrounded by other people who are just as confused, befuddled, amazed, humbled, scared, thrilled as I am to be there and to be there, together.