Sometimes it happens with routines. School schedules, regular work days, afterschool activities and such. Sometimes it happens too fast, when all the normal routines are crowded with business trips, conferences, additional meetings and activities. Other times it happens with focus on a single important event – a dear friend in crisis, a family member with a serious illness, the grief after the death of a loved one. Life happens, and we are swept along. No matter the season, no matter how rushed, weary or worried we may be, there is a place where we can find rest and companionship.
In recent weeks, my life has been rushed and full of meetings. It’s a bit like that cartoon snowball that begins at the top of the hill as just a speck but is soon speeding downhill, picking up steam and more snow, larger and faster, rushing along! I’ve managed to keep up until just recently. Normally I am fairly active on social media, but lately I’ve barely checked Twitter, much less posted. I’ve started Instagram posts and gone back days later to find them still unfinished. I’ve taken photos and composed posts in my mind and weeks later they still aren’t posted. Two days ago I checked Facebook, finally able to look beyond whatever the algorithm thinks is most important, only to find that two dear friends are reeling from the death of family members. I’ve nearly forgotten meetings, lost my planner (yes, I still use a paper planner in addition to the digital one), and my to-do list is no longer a single list but several pieces of paper stuffed into my Everything Notebook.
“Crazy Busy” Threatens to Overtake
My Everything Notebook is a disaster at this point. In the last two months I’ve had more inspiration and more spontaneous meetings than I was able to keep up with, and the ideas are all crammed in there – a book proposal, notes from an article I’m certain is about to be due but I’ve lost the deadline info, notes on the wedding I’m to officiate in a couple weeks, notes on the study I’m leading next month, notes on the study guide I’ve been asked to write, notes on the workshop I agreed to teach. I long to shut the door on the world and focus on this work, but there are other demands on my attention.
Normally I keep up with the news cycle, but lately I’ve been lost in thought, praying how to respond. Most of my colleagues who blog and the other blogs I follow were quick to respond to the latest news about immigration in South Texas, but I have held back from writing. The situation has never been far from my mind. I grew up on that border. I know many pastors, church members and missionaries who work along the border. One of my friends from high school works for the Border Patrol in the area near our hometown. Caught between concerns for both viewpoints, and caught up in my own picking-up-speed-snowball-down-the-hill moment, I held back. I prayed but did not blog.
The Temptation to Retreat
It would have been easy, and perhaps it was a temptation, to retreat inward yesterday. I’ve been to five church related events/conferences in the two months. These have included inspiring worship services, with amazing choirs, a wide variety of music styles, carefully planned themes and elaborate altars, many different scriptures and sermons. It would have been easy to say to myself that I’ve had enough church lately. Saturday evening I was in a lengthy worship service that included five bishops! That should count as worship enough to cover Sunday morning too, shouldn’t it?
But my soul was still hungry. And so I went to worship with the Church. I did not shut the door to the world. I did not turn off my phone. I did not sit quietly working on one of the things on my list. I went to Church. Capital “C” Church, where I was reminded through the connection with my local congregation that I am part of the Body of Christ, and my soul was fed, nourished for the work of the Church.
Shauna Niequist writes in Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table about how our souls are fed through the fellowship we find around the table: “We tend to believe that what we’ve done is too bad – that our sins and mistakes are beyond repair, and our faults and failures too deep and ugly. That’s what shame tells us. But if we take a chance and come to the table, and if when we are there we are treated with respect and esteem and kindness, then that voice of shame recedes, just for a little while, enough to let the voice of truth, of hope, of Christ himself, get planted a little deeper and a little deeper each time. The table becomes the hospital bed, the place of healing. It becomes the place of relearning and reeducating, the place where value and love are communicated.”
A whisper of shame that I’m not able to keep up, and a dash of pride that I had “church enough” lately, and I nearly didn’t come to the table yesterday. I nearly didn’t go and sing about God’s grace, hear the psalmist’s praise of God, hear the proclamation of the good news. I nearly didn’t go to the big party later, celebrating our pastor’s recent ordination. I nearly didn’t go and share in laughter and conversation, marvel over the bounty of the pot luck side dishes, laugh as we all crowded in the house as a thunderstorm crashed around us, found matches to light candles because the power had gone out.
Niequist describes how in these moments, both in the church and out, we find the presence of the Spirit: “When the table is full, heavy with platters, wine glasses scattered, napkins twisted and crumpled, forks askew, dessert plates scattered with crumbs and icing, candles burning down low – it’s in those moments that I feel a deep sense of God’s presence and happiness. I feel honored to create a place around my table, a place for laughing and crying, for being seen and heard, for telling stories and creating memories.”
Feasting Prepares Us For The Work
Yesterday was full of these moments. People shared joys – adoptions approved, retirements celebrated, ordinations honored. People shared new adventures – house renovations, young adults learning about vocation and mission, new jobs, new relationships. People shared sorrows – jobs lost, surgeries scheduled, loved ones with terminal illnesses. People simply shared – laughter and connection over the table, loneliness eased, burdens lessened.
We come to the table and our souls are fed, we are refreshed to go out again. The words of Fred Pratt Green’s hymn “When the Church of Jesus” came to mind this morning – refreshed by the fellowship around the table at church and beyond, I am so glad that I did not retreat into myself yesterday. Table fellowship refreshes us to live into being the church, the Body of Christ for the world.
“When the church of Jesus shuts its outer door, lest the roar of traffic drown the voice of prayer, may our prayers, Lord, make us ten times more aware that the world we banish is our Christian care.
If our hearts are lifted where devotion soars high above this hungry, suffering world of ours, lest our hymns should drug us to forget its needs, forge our Christian worship into Christian deeds.
Lest the gifts we offer, money, talents, time, serve to salve our conscience, to our secret shame, Lord, reprove, inspire us by the way you give; teach us dying Savior, how true Christians live.”
Life happens – and we can retreat or we can gather around the table and be fed. Gathered around tables yesterday, my soul was able to praise with the Church, to pray with the Church, to be refreshed for mission with the Church. Reproved, inspired, taught, we are ready to live with awareness of the world around us, to do the work of justice for all people, to proclaim God’s care for all people and creation, to be witnesses to the love of Christ that is good news to the poor, release to the captives, freedom for the oppressed. May you find table fellowship that is a feast for your journey as a witness to this mission of Christ.
Quotes from Niequist found on e-reader location 3111, just before a great recipe for bread. Try it! Invite some friends over for dinner, ask them to share a dish, and enjoy the joy of shared live around the table.