As things green up, and the light lingers into the evening, and the air becomes warmer, I feel an increasing sense of well-being. Optimism and hopefulness are more easily accessed when there’s light, and gentle warmth, and beauty to behold.
But what about when there isn’t? What about the moments (hours - days - months - years) when everything isn’t beautiful, simple, or rewarding? Such moments come to all of us; to some more than to others. In our culture, there are lots of ways we try to deal with this.
We find ourselves speechless and offer up nonsense that we’ve heard elsewhere: “God won’t give you more than you can handle” “It could be worse” “That happened to me (or my great-uncle Horace or my next-door neighbor) and here’s what you should do”.
We pretend everything is fine and don’t mention it – whether “it” is happening to us or to a friend. We simply try to continue as-if all is in order and going according to plan.
We absent ourselves from our customary haunts, communities, and habits. Maybe if we’re not present to the old places, people, and practices, it won’t hurt so much.
Some of the most hopeful people I have met are our Community Free Meal guests. Many come because the food is delicious, the environment comfortable, and company enjoyable. Others come because this is a hot meal in a life where those are scarce and far between. Many are our neighbors. Some drive from comfortable homes a bit farther away. Others are not sure where they’ll sleep tonight – or very proud of the lean-to they’ve built over the years with found materials. They find with us no solution to the big problems (health, housing, safety…) but community and fellowship. They find companions along the way.
I think this is what we do when life gets too hard, the sorrow too large, the problems too many: we find a companion (two or twenty or more – depends on personality and other intangibles). We find ourselves a soul friend: someone who will be present with us in the enormity of the loss or fear or unknowing.
This is the fundamental nature of Christian community: this willingness to be present together to all of life. In that being-present, we also experience the presence of God. We know that God is always present – in the celebrating and in the mourning, in the shouts of praise and cries of pain, in all of the complicated texture of human life.
Throughout Scripture, in all the eras of divine witness, there is this affirmation that nothing can separate us from the Love of God. Wherever we go, God is there – farthest reaches of the sea, highest mountains – God is there. There is nowhere we can hide from God – and there is nowhere God is not (no heart, no person, no place, nowhere). Where God is, there is Life and Love. As Julian of Norwich said, at the height of the Hundred Years War and in the wake of the Black Death, from her anchoress cell, “All shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”
The people of Grace are gifted at this being-present together. It is one of your charisms. When we take time together, in the hardships and sorrows as well as in the fun and delight, we walk the Way of Christ: the path of Life that goes through (not around) the gates of Death and emerges triumphant in Life again. And again. And again.
Let us rejoice together in these summer days, knowing that hope abides and endures – whatever the weather.