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In which you gather at the homemade altar

You sent out the emails with the place and the time. You stopped at the grocery store for a round of sourdough bread and a bottle of the finest grape juice. You took the baby to the frozen food store while the tinies were at school, and you picked up appys and lemon squares (between a home cooked meal and your own sanity, you’ll choose your sanity, every time). The night came and you bathed all the tinies and put them in their beds early. You realized the washroom needed a quick wipe-down seconds before everyone arrived and madly ran around with the Windex, threw all the coats that usually hang on the banister into the closet. You made a pot of tea.

The doors are unlocked, everyone can just walk right in. They know that.

You covered your beat-up old coffee table with tablecloths from the thrift store. You arranged candles, centred the iron cross from your mantle, laid down your Bible and your Common Prayer. You placed the bread and the wine and – just like that – you turned your coffee table into an altar, your home into a sacred space for the gathering.

And that is how church begins on a rainy Thursday night in a small city in the west.

You love the way the men make each other laugh, the way their faces crinkle at the eyes. You love the way the women congregate in the kitchen so easily, standing around talking about their babies.

The night unfolded with logistics and scheduling, then justice to frustrations, prayer to silence, stories of our lives now and from our past.

It’s dark outside, pouring rain. Your babies are sleeping in their beds under the quilts their Grandma made for them, miraculously snoring through the loud laughter. The candles on your homemade altar drip drip drip as the night unfolds, and this is your church, these are your people, they look you in the eye. You know their stories, they know yours, but there is still so much to discover. Hope is still present. You’re not quite a family yet, but you’re getting there, one gathering after another.

And then you pray over their bowed heads, each one so precious to you, and invite them to the table.

So come to this table,
you have much faith
and you who would like to have more;
you who have been here often
and you have not been here for a long time;
you who have tried to follow Jesus, 
and you who have failed;
come. it is Christ who invites us to meet him here.

 

You tear off the bread and hand it to your beautiful friend: this is his body, broken for you. She turns and hands it to the man beside her, blesses him with that same benediction. Then you pass the cup – this is His blood, spilled for you – and you all partake together, one after another, hand to hand. You aren’t standing in a line, you’re beside each other and it’s hard not to grin sometimes. You read Scripture out of your old friend, Isaiah’s book, and right now here you are looking at the way that the desert has bloomed. This is your river running to Zion, and it’s right in your own living room.

Good night, good night. I’m so glad I was here, I’m so glad you could come, this was just what I needed. I love you, love you, too. See you next week.

This is another way that you have fallen back in love with the Bride of Christ: you opened your doors and welcomed her in to your life.

Liturgy taken from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

Continue Reading · church, community, faith, friends, journey · 13

In which women talk about women (an interview)

I read Sarah Cunningham’s book, Dear Church: Letters from a Disillusioned Generation, years ago and loved it. Like many of you, I’ve followed her work online for a while and was pleasantly surprised to be included in her ongoing series Women Talk Women. She interviewed me a few weeks ago and today the full interview is up at her blog.

We discussed everything from friendship to jealousy, cattiness to criticism, even Madeleine L’Engle and my sister.

 

Sarah Cunningham: Have you had an easier time building friendships with men or women? And what do you think are the challenges of both?

Sarah Bessey: I do have friendships with men, primarily professional friendships or through my husband. But my deepest friendships are with women. I think one of the great lies of our culture is that women can’t be trusted. We hear from reality television and some church people alike that women are catty, insecure, jealous, gossip-prone. My experience has absolutely been the opposite. On the whole, I’ve found women to be funny, strong, supportive, motivated, wise, and deeply spiritual. Anything else tends to be the excepting minority.

I think women in the church today are rather tired of being pitted against one another and I believe we want to transcend the competitive staging of our relationships. For instance, the “mummy wars” are usually more of a myth to sell magazines than my actual experience. I see women around me – in work, in my neighbourhood, in many faith traditions, in professional encounters, even online – as very committed to each other’s well-being. The underlying sense of sisterhood among women of faith is strong. I have found women on the whole to be willing to be friends even without point-by-point agreement on every aspect of life.

SC: Love. Why didn’t I interview you earlier? As a strong leader, you’ve probably occasionally run up against another woman who acted “catty” toward you. What do you do with that?

SB: Cattiness from women is usually gossip about surface things – my weight, my looks, my mannerisms, that sort of thing. (And that can get under my skin almost more than someone who thinks I’m a heretic!) But I don’t confuse criticism with cattiness. Someone can disagree with me very well without being catty, so I try to separate out “catty” from “critic.” I’ve been attacked by women, but I’ve also been attacked by men. I’ve been gossipped about, sure, but it’s not gender-specific.

Read the rest of the interview at Sarah Cunningham’s blog, Crowdsourcing Life.

My thanks to Sarah for the invitation! She’s one to follow.

 

Continue Reading · friends, women · 4

In which I have circles of friendship – and a Lobster

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh?” he whispered.

“Yes, Piglet?”

“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

- A.A. Milne

As an introvert, I have often felt bad or less-spiritual because I just don’t enjoy crowds or parties or large groups. Ice-breakers and games and church-teas are pretty much the third circle of hell for me. Get-to-know-you chit-chat is a necessary evil so I’ve practiced, I’ve gotten much better at it now. But add in the aspect of being a blogger and writer who writes about All The Thoughts and Feeeeeeeeeeeelings publicly, and it gets a bit more complicated. I often write to figure out what I think, and I think I live a pretty seamless life between online and real-life, but some part of me still wants to die of embarrassment when someone in my real life actually brings up my blog or my book. (In fact, I’m rather private and I keep a lot of my life and the lives of my loved ones secret and sacred – which surprises people because, well, 2,000+ posts here on ye olde blog seem to indicate differently.) I have pretty small circles of trusted friends, and a very strong Holy-Spirit-led instinct which I’ve learned to honour.

Sometimes all the talk about “community” in the Church lately can freak me out. Not just because the expectation of CONSTANT TOGETHERNESS, or the pressure to feel guilty for my beloved solitary pursuits like walking or reading or writing and quiet weekends. It’s also the way that it can make us feel like everyone should have full and unrestricted access to our time, energy, spirit, and soul.

Years ago, when my husband was a youth and college & career pastor, he used to preach a few times a week. Today, he would tell you that he would preach and teach and lead much differently now than he did ten years ago, but the content of many of his sermons stay with me still. (He’s a good teacher.) In those days, I used to sit up in the sound booth, running the PowerPoint slides. Or I would hang out at the back of the Warehouse, alternately keeping trouble-makers in line and having little abandoned worship-moments by myself as the youth band jammed. One of Brian’s sermons was about “circles of friendship.” I’ve never forgotten it and I’ve often referred to it in my quest for understanding and practicing community.

A few friends and I were chatting about that buzzword – “community” – recently and trying to figure out why it felt weird sometimes. While we talked about our own best and worst experiences, Amber casually mentioned that we just aren’t meant for community with 500 people. This rang true for me because it articulated how I manage my own quest for community and friendship, expectations and intimacy.

Some folks think we need to be vulnerable and transparent and deeply connected with everyone and their dog and Facebook. But that’s just not so. Brené Brown says we should only share with people who have earned the right to hear our story. We’re not made for friendship promiscuity – that’s not community, that’s pearls-before-swine and it’s probably a profanity to your soul.

Community isn’t an exercise in consumerism and gluttony. Community is not more+more+more = better.

Based on Brian’s old sermon, I picture my relationships like concentric circles, progressively getting smaller.

On the biggest outside circle, there is The Crowd. These are the people in my life without any real intimacy – people you know by name or sight through church or the neighbourhood, perhaps through blogging or social media or school pick ups. You run in the same circles but you’re not really much more than acquaintances. I don’t give much energy to these relationships.

(Notice that I don’t have a circle for Toxic People. It’s not because I hate them or think God hates them. Not at all. I just don’t have room in my circles for people who make me crazy. Life is too short for me to give energy to people who poison my life or spirit or mind. This includes old relationships broken due to betrayal or lack of trust and it even includes people in public life. I know there are people who feel very strongly about “keeping an eye” on the enemy or being a watch-dog but I don’t think of people as enemies, and outrage wears me out, so I just ignore them. I know my calling in life and it’s not that.  For instance, I’ve got enough going on here without losing sleep every time someone is wrong on the Internet.)

The next smallest circle is My Community. These are the people with whom I have a measure of real reciprocal friendship. We hang out, do the playdate thing, occasionally open up, maybe go to church together, we have fun together. Yet these are the people who require a commitment from me. I enjoy our time together, absolutely, but it’s the “Love is a Decision” crowd for an introvert who prefers time alone. I’ve decided to love them and decided to do life with them, and so now I act like it by showing up, by being committed to our friendship. I might rather have another Thursday night to myself, but once my Home Group shows up, I love it because I love them and I like doing life with them. They make my life better. I used to dread going to a book club every week, contemplated cancelling weekly, and yet every week I came home and told my husband that I was so glad I went because it was wonderful and life-giving.

Then there are My People. These are the people with whom I feel a connection of the kindred-spirit and bosom-friend type, this doesn’t require much commitment because there is magic and pixie dust here. This is my tribe. I am open with this small gathering of diverse people because they have earned my trust. I feel I can be my real self with them – both the silly ridiculous and the deep contemplative. They know me, truly know me, and speak into my life often. They challenge me, call me out on my sin or struggles, pray for me, and have my back. I hope I do the same for them. I have them in my real day-to-day life but a handful are scattered around the country and we only see each other in real life once in a long while even if we talk daily. We have our fingers on each other’s pulse and notice changes. These people act as mentors and fellow-journeyers and they are, quite simply, My People.

(The circles are now very tiny, indeed.)

This second-to-last circle is quite small, only enough room for my sister here really. She is My Lobster (which makes absolutely no sense if you didn’t watch a lot of Friends). We have mated for life, we will walk around the tank holding our little claws together forever. I have no secrets from her. (I hope that when the tinies grow up, they will be My Lobsters, too.)

And the last circle for me is my husband, My Soulmate. I don’t think we believe in soulmates, not really, but we act like it. We are One, no secrets, full intimacy, he’s the one I’m sure of.

Kristin – who is on of My People – references these circles far more spiritually than me. She says that Jesus had the Crowd, then he had his large group of Followers, then his Disciples, then the Twelve, then just the Three – John, Peter, and James – went into the Garden with him while he prayed before his crucifixion.

So she calls her most intimate circle “Garden Friends” – the people she would want with her in the garden before death, standing watch with her. I like her way of looking at it.

Of course, I want to be transparent. I want to live without a mask. I want to be vulnerable and courageous and bold. I want to live a seamless life. And yet I believe we can’t have real, true community or real, true friendship with 500 people. I believe we were made to belong, made to love and be loved. And I also believe we’re really truly blessed if we have a very small handful people in those inner three “circles.” Most of us don’t need much more than that, not really. We can get by without the Toxic People, without The Crowd. The Community is nice, but it’s the inner three circles that make life beautiful.

 

Continue Reading · church, community, faith, friends, journey · 64

In which our gentleness is evident to one first

 

We had a full house of friends the other night. It was a “serve yourself from the stove” kind of evening, and Joseph hollered and crashed dinosaurs together in the living room while the football game blared, tinies danced to music, and crumbs covered the floor. After most everyone had left and the dishwasher was roaring, I collapsed on the couch, overstimulation complete. I’d lost my temper earlier in the day with one of the tinies, and I was still stinging with it.

One young couple remained behind, intending to put their little baby down to sleep at our house so they could stay a bit longer and visit. My three were sound asleep, and the house was dark, just a few lamps lit, and I waited with my knitting in hand, enjoying the quiet while this beautiful young mama tried to put her baby to sleep. But, as any parent knows, many are the plans in a parent’s heart but often it is the baby who prevails. (“Sleep alone in an uncomfortable playpen in a strange house? No, thank you, Mumma.”)

I listened to her sing soft and slow, she has a lovely voice. I couldn’t discern a word she sang, but the sound and melody of a mama-lullaby overheard melts armour, unfurls muscle knots, exhales the lungs, and releases tension. Eventually, my friend gave up to the inevitable with good grace, carrying a bright-eyed small baby back out, and she rocked her girl slow in my old red rocking chair until the baby blinked longer between yawns and lolled back. She said something so wise while she rocked, I wanted to write it down: “Paul told us to let our gentleness be evident to all*, and I want my gentleness to be evident to our baby girl, too, even when no one is around to overhear or notice but her.”

 

*Philippians 4:5

 

Continue Reading · baby, friends, moments, parenting · 36