image by Rebekah Choat
Let me make the songs for the people,
Songs for the old and young;
Songs to stir like a battle-cry
Wherever they are sung.
Not for the clashing of sabres,
For carnage nor for strife;
But songs to thrill the hearts of men
With more abundant life.
Let me make the songs for the weary,
Amid life’s fever and fret,
Till hearts shall relax their tension,
And careworn brows forget.
Let me sing for little children,
Before their footsteps stray,
Sweet anthems of love and duty,
To float o’er life’s highway.
I would sing for the poor and aged,
When shadows dim their sight;
Of the bright and restful mansions,
Where there shall be no night.
Our world, so worn and weary,
Needs music, pure and strong,
To hush the jangle and discords
Of sorrow, pain, and wrong.
Music to soothe all its sorrow,
Till war and crime shall cease;
And the hearts of men grown tender
Girdle the world with peace.
~ Frances E. W. Harper
community (n): a unified body of individuals, as: (a) people with
common interests living in a particular area; (b) an interacting
population of various kinds of individuals in a common location;
(c) a body of persons having a common history or common social,
economic, and political interests; (d) common character
The word community is used in a lot of different contexts, more or less approximating one or another of the definitions given above. The past week I’ve been hearing the word on the news a lot, as the reporters talk about which communities are being hit hardest by our unusually cold weather. I think of my church as a community of the second type, one in which many people who may have little in common beyond a desire to attend services meet in a set location for a set purpose at set times.
What I consider true community is a blending of the remaining two meanings, a group of people who share not only an interest in a particular something, but also a commonality of attitude toward that something. For example, I once attended a writing group. Each of us was interested in creative writing, but I soon discovered that I had a very different focus and intent than any of the others. To me, community is a circle in which I can feel comfortable sharing deep thoughts and feelings, without having to explain overmuch, knowing I will be loved and respected no matter what.
Community is so much more than living and working together
It is a bond of the heart that has no physical limitations. Indeed
it is candles burning in different places of the world, all praying
the same silent prayer of friendship and love. ~ Henri Nouwen,
Yes, we are created in and for community, to be there, in love,
for one another. But community cuts both ways: when we reach
the limits of our own capacity to love, community means trusting
that someone else will be available to the person in need.
~ Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak
O Father, we have been wounded
by those who are also your children.
Sometimes in ignorance, sometimes in malice,
often in misguided zeal,
they have cut us with their words
and bruised us with their deeds.
We limp along, battered, bleeding, bewildered.
We meet other pilgrims on the way.
They, too, are battered, bleeding, bewildered.
As we look into their faces,
we realize to our dismay
that we have also wounded them.
Merciful Father, pour out your healing upon us,
and give us grace to share it
with those who have hurt us, whom we have hurt,
with all your bleeding, bewildered children.
May your peace pass among us, passing understanding,
and your goodness guide us together into your kingdom.
~ Rebekah Choat
Sitting in the sanctuary this morning
Saying the names of those who’ve gone on
A woman my age cradling an infant in her lap
A younger woman cradling her grandmother in a half-embrace
Middle-aged mothers with newly-grown children
Middle-aged daughters with growing-old parents
Communion of saints
This becoming a real live girl isn’t easy; it’s not a straight and clearly marked path. A lot of my experience has been a process of trial and error; a small victory here, a familiar pitfall there…I’ve worked through a lot of long-pent-up emotional damage, yet sometimes still slip back into the well-worn pattern of repressing my feelings so as not to make others uncomfortable.
I’ve taken medications for anxiety and depression, quit taking them when they didn’t work well – or when they had worked well enough that I didn’t think I needed them anymore – tried different ones, adjusted dosage levels, and finally gotten onto a pretty even keel. I’ve gone to counselors, some of whom were helpful, some not so much. I’ve been blessed with incredibly patient and insightful friends who have done more for me than I will ever be able to tell them.
I’m learning, at last, who this elusive real girl Rebekah is: to discern what is truly important to her and to stand up for what she believes, to recognize what is harmful to her and to dare to protect her, to trust her instincts, to be comfortable with her. By the measureless grace of God, I think I’m growing up to be me.
My circle of friends has been touched by death several times in the past few weeks. Many of these departures were long-expected; elderly relatives who had been pressing toward the mark finally reached the prize, desperately ill friends who had been fighting the good fight won through to perfect healing.
Does the expectedness make the parting any less painful? Does the opportunity to say goodbye make it any easier to let go? I don’t know. Both my grandfathers passed suddenly, one in an accident that happened so fast that even my uncle who was right there with him had no chance for a farewell. Both my grandmothers lingered on long past threescore and ten; I shared with them what I knew were the last embraces, the last words, the last leave-takings. But when it came to it, though I wouldn’t have kept them here in pain and confusion a moment longer, I wasn’t ready to be left behind.
It’s hard to wrap our minds around this realization that someone we love, someone we can see and touch and talk to today, can be gone beyond our reach tomorrow. As C. S. Lewis said, we of all men hope most of death – we believe and affirm that our greatest hope and joy lie on the other side – yet we can never quite be reconciled to the unnaturalness of it.
In our poor human understanding, we tend to think of farewells, especially final farewells with great sadness. We imagine an irrevocable severing of the ties that bind our loved ones to earth, to us. A vast, impassable abyss seems to open between us.
But as I read a friend’s comment, three summers ago now, about saying goodbye to his elderly father overseas, perhaps for the last time, the words struck me differently. Yes, we say goodbye for the last time. We say goodbye for the last time. When next we meet, it will be beyond these petty limits of physical space and bodily tangibility. When next we meet, it will be outside the walls of this world and outside of time. When next we meet, it will be for always, past parting.