On a summer morning, I sat at South Station with my two younger children, awaiting the train that would take us to see their brother in New York. I took a good look at them and the people they are becoming as they travel into and almost out of adolescence. I noted the twinkle in his blue eyes as he teased her and the gleam in her brown ones as she returned fire. I wonder if they see the changes age brings, or if I look the same to them with my newly grey hair as I did with brown hair that came from a box.
Often in the church we come to believe that we can remain as we have always been, and yet be faithful. We forget that all living beings grow and change and make progress on a journey that is not only outward and linear but also inward and spiral. We come to the same places again and again, at the same time that we move on never to return. My family has formed and re-formed as one and then another goes off to school away from home. We are different and yet the same, changed in our particulars but faithful to our essence: love.
The life of a congregation is as fluid, despite our human desire to make time stand still. In every season of our lives, and in every season of the church’s life, there is something essential to be noticed, whether it is visible or “in,” some signal that will guide us in taking the next step toward the fullest possible relationship with God.
In my twenties, I began to develop a sense of my life’s direction, one that seemed to be pointing me to ordained ministry. I remember the feeling of excitement that accompanied the realization, anticipation and joy such as we feel when we plan a trip to a desirable destination. I also felt fear, because I did not know what the road might hold. And as the mother of two young boys, I sometimes felt I would always be reading travel brochures and never getting underway. Still God’s call continued to beckon, and I embarked on the journey, continuing even after a third child and a divorce made arrival seem more unlikely.
And of course I discovered that what graduation and ordination marked no conclusion, but rather the beginning of another leg of the trip.
When I first went hiking with my husband, I asked over and over, “How much farther?” And he replied, over and over, “We’re almost there.” I did not know the trail and could not picture what might lie ahead. I fear I wasted the opportunity to enjoy the flowers and the trees, the chipmunks and the birds. Life in the church sometimes feels the same. How will we respond to the changing culture around us? Do we still matter in and to the wider world? How much longer and how much farther?
I wonder how often the disciples asked Jesus, “Are we there yet?”
What matters is not that we reach some mythical summit. What matters is following the way set out for us by Jesus. Whether we wrestle over theology and politics or bond over casseroles and knitting, as a church we take a journey together. We carry with us bread and wine and water, those signs of God’s grace and presence among us. The more estranged we seem to be from the world, the more significant these provisions become, for each time we share the bread and cup, each time we pour the water onto a head, small or large, we renew our promise to be Christ’s people.
I am committed to walking the unknown road of life and faith, with God as my guide, and I seek a church engaged in the journey.