Saturday, March 09, 2013
Sunday, March 10, 2013
With all humility and gentleness, and with patience, support each other in love. Take every care to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. There is one Body, one Spirit, just as one hope is the goal of your calling by God.
Paul Tillich and my friend, Lauren, couldn’t be more different. Tillich was one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century. His works are still read, especially in seminaries and graduate schools, and will affect the thought of pastors, novelists, poets and scholars for decades to come.
Lauren is a wonderful young woman who has struggled with muscular dystrophy ever since suffering strokes while she was still in her mother’s womb. One of her hands is twisted and crabbed, fingers malformed. The other works slowly, awkwardly. The same is true of her legs and feet.
Her strength is waning these days, but Lauren soldiers on. Last year she graduated from a two-year program at a local community college and now works for an agency that provides resources for people like her. After talking with her last Friday, I want to visit her office.
Lauren tells me everyone who works there has one disability or another. They are all different, she says, and every hour of the day they make allowances for what the people around them cannot do, or need help doing, or what they can do but slowly … with many pauses for rest or to secure their balance.
They all “get it,” Lauren tells me. They know what it is to struggle with one challenge or another, and they extend grace to each other’s needs … and the dignity of allowing each other to do what they can in their own way.
Tears formed as I listened to Lauren and thought how wonderful it must be for her to work in this world where people “get her,” a place of grace and mutual respect. She is seen as the person of care, hope and good humor that she is, as she begins to make a life for herself against odds greater than most of us face.
Listening to her transported me more than 30 years back to a seminary classroom where I first learned to love and (partially) to understand Tillich.
He wrote powerfully of spiritual community near the end of his Systematic Theology, and most students knew, of course, that he was talking about the church as the creation of the Spirit of Christ in the world.
But our thoughts were far too narrow. We did not clearly envision Lauren and her work place. We couldn’t then grasp the sacrament of human community and care in all its beauty, as the Spirit of Christ freely creates the wonder of spiritual community far beyond the boundaries of church buildings.
Tears are an interesting thing. They appear when something deep within us is wounded, touched by love or set free to live and breathe. Lauren’s words do not flow like water in a stream. She stumbles and often works hard to say what is clear in her mind. Her words come out in threes and fours, a pause then several more.
Still, her description of the spiritual community as it exists in her office was as eloquent and powerful as Tillich’s words--and far more concrete. She brought me to tears of joy for her.
She also awakened a desire to live, love and laugh in such a community. My soul longs to breathe freely, revealing its beauty and brokenness among souls who, with all humility, gentleness and patience, support each other in love. Who doesn’t want this grace?
But my tears revealed one more blessed truth. Listening to Lauren, I realized so clearly that I already know and have this grace.
There are many days when I experience this depth of spiritual community among a people who struggle to live the love of Christ. Often, we fail. But there days we succeed almost as well as Lauren and her colleagues.