image by Rebekah Choat
This past weekend, just before All Saints’ Day, I attended the Ordinary Saints exhibit and retreat at Laity Lodge, a lovely, tranquil place in the Texas Hill Country where hospitality is bodied forth on every level. Ordinary Saints is an extraordinary collaborative art piece: poet priest Malcolm Guite’s insightful poems reflecting on exquisite portraits painted by Bruce Herman, set to soaring music composed by JAC Redford.
We gathered for a weekend in the hills –
in God’s own country, right at Texas’ heart –
to contemplate the space each of us fills
through painter’s, poet’s, and composer’s art:
to learn to see each other face to face,
to trust and hold each other ever near,
not just together in this hallowed place,
but when we’ve said farewell and gone from here;
to recognize the holy in the daily
and understand that no one is mere mortal,
to know that, though we walk through this life frailly,
each eye we look on could be Heaven’s portal
in flesh and blood, not just on wood in paint,
we’re all of us God’s ordinary saints.
~ Rebekah Choat
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.