This Sunday my youngest son participated in the bell choir at a local church. It wasn’t just any worship service. It was a Moravian feast candlelight service. I sat there (and stood and sang hymns and held the candle and broke bread) looking up at the chandeliers and all around at the lights and decorations of the season and wondered why I felt glad to be there. Former semi-fundie no longer of religion sitting in a pew. With sister to my right and son and daughter to my right and the father of my children too. It was, once again, an odd arrangement of purposes. I was there to honor my son’s love of the bells and all things group. He loves community and has felt estranged from it all by our very unique way of living. His parents co-parent ‘though divorced and don’t fight, squabble or otherwise do anything but support each other in nurturing three beautiful lives. This is odd. We foster love and generosity in their lives and educate them on different paths of spirituality, as we’re able. And we live in a town that is 99.9% uber Christian. So, we are even more odd. And add to that the fact that we sit in what is actually a beautiful church with thoughtful and caring souls and we are that much more odd. We can go where we don’t “belong” and yet find belonging. And I realized, as I sat there, that I was glad to be there apart from the wonder of hearing my son in chime rhyme with all of his choir friends.
It was perplexing to me. On the one hand I knew immediately that it was that part of me longing to belong to a group bigger than my own clan, my own little world. I watched the bell choir director and her passion, knowing from her own revealing that she was struggling with some deeply challenging grief. And she stood there giving with whole heart.
There are, to my mind anyway, so many deep flaws in Christianity and so I walked out. But there I sat. Glad to be. And today I find this from Fromm:
“The most important sphere of giving…lies in the specifically human realm. What does one person give to another? He gives himself, of the most precious he has, he gives of his life. This does not necessarily mean that he sacrifices his life for the other–but that he gives him of that which is alive in him; he gives him of his joy, of his interest, of his understanding, of his knowledge, of his humor, of his sadness–of all expressions and manifestations of that which is alive in him. In thus giving of his life, he enriches the other person, he enhances the other’s sense of aliveness by enhancing his own sense of aliveness. He does not give in order to receive; giving is in itself exquisite joy. But in giving he cannot help bringing something to life in the other person, and this which is brought to life reflects back to him; in truly giving, he cannot help receiving that which is given back to him. Giving implies to make the other person a giver also and they both share in the joy of what they have brought to life.” Erich Fromm – The Art of Loving
And I realize that the source of perplexity in my mind was the recognition that there was something deeply and authentically good about my being glad to be there. And that it didn’t mean I had changed my mind about my place in Christianity (not IN but with those who can be in it without being destructive). It meant that I could appreciate the flow of giving that occurs in these odd arrangements of purpose. I wondered, as I sat there, why are these folks here? Each family. Each person. Why? Do they do it by rote? Is it just another habit? And as I wondered that, it occurred to me that even that didn’t matter. I knew, without being able to say so to myself, that they were there to partake of each other. Even if stiffly assembled in long pews of wooden restriction. It is a place of sharing, of opening up to receive and reaching out to give.
And in the one most cherished verse of a long-favored hymn…
Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel…
We inherit our delusions sometimes, or our blind acceptance of long-held beliefs passed down from generation to generation. Or we openly, knowingly choose our walk of faith. We are an odd arrangement of reasons and purpose. And we resonate to what is inherently human within both our delusions and our beliefs. We do the best we can until we learn what more we can give, what more we can know, what more we can discover.
And sometimes we make ourselves odd. We disrupt the rhythm and cast off the tradition. But ultimately, we all want the same thing. To know and be known in love, to give and receive of our stories. The only way to do that is to meet each other where we are, as we are, without insistence on agreement in all things. We have this common ground…