March 26, 2017
Letters Home (from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)
I grew up in the northwestern region of the United States. My relationship with the mountains, forests, streams, and of course rain, of that place are central elements of what formed me as a person. When I reflect back to my notions of the world as it should be, it is inevitable that this environment is what I see. One of the memories I frequently return to is that of sitting around a late night campfire with my mom, dad, brother and sister. That little circle around the warm glow of our campfire in the forests of my home state is an essential touchstone for me. Much of what has been important to my life is represented in that scene. That circle, and others like it, were bound together by relationship, love, and commitment.
Like most of us, after leaving that circle of my youth, I went through years of searching for meaning and purpose. This search usually lasts decades if not a lifetime. It frequently takes us to insightful heights and frustrating depths. At one particular moment in my search, when both frustration and insight came face to face, a voice within set me on a direction I have trusted since. That voice whispered to my heart, “Meaning in life is found in relationship.”
Recently I read an interview of David Brooks conducted by Matt Fitzgerald of Christian Century. Mr. Brooks spoke of first causes as we develop as individuals. He offered that we do not first concern ourselves with definitions, or concepts. Instead we “fall in love with a person, or fall in love with a god, we fall in love with a way of being in the world, or with some hero that we try to imitate.”
It is tempting to pretend we are rational beings first and foremost, but life shows that first and foremost we are relational beings and these relationships provide the fire for our life. In many ways we have been created in a manner that our fulfillment is found in ties to the other. There is a germ of truth to the stereotype that claims people tend to more fully come to grips with life after they are married. The desire to please, give, nurture, and build something for a shared future can blossom in such relationships.
Portland, my hometown, has changed over the 37 years I have been gone. One of the most notable changes has been the development of its food culture. Travel magazines tell us that Portland’s restaurant scene now rivals what is available anywhere on the west coast. The Rose City has gained a reputation being something of a “foodie’s paradise.” I have learned that foodies are folk with a particular interest in food; they are people who enjoy the art of cuisine. My tastes are simpler. I eat to live. Maybe one who enjoys the art of food would say they live to eat. Regardless of how you slice it, eating a piece of bread fuels the fires that keep our bodies alive.
There is one place in which all that I have written above comes together. That place is in a gathered circle of the friends of Jesus. We frequently gather to share a morsel of bread and a sip of wine which has been blessed for a particular purpose. When we do so, that food is much more than something that fuels the fire of our bodies. Through prayer the bread and wine become tangible aspects of our relationship with Jesus. This relationship fuels the fires of our heart and soul.
For those who gather around the Lord Jesus, everything David Brooks said about first causes is true. A person who becomes a Christian has not first fallen in love with dogma, principles, or creeds. We have fallen in love with a person, the Lord Jesus, who lived a real life in this world, and gave His heart to us.
Memories of my family’s campfires remind me of my origins, and keep me grounded. Gathering in the circle of faith around the Bread of Heaven reminds me of who I am in the eyes of God, and fuels my desire to live that vision today and into all tomorrows. My relationship with Jesus is central to the person I long to become. I pray this is true for you.
Fourth Sunday in Lent
Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP 219)