Topic: Relationships. Learning top develop deeper and balanced relationships “up” with God, “in” with our community, and “out” with the world.
Our relationships can be transformed or renewed over time, even our relationship with God; this is a great blessing and of course a consequence of human development, though broken relationships can bring us pain. And how we handle and sustain our relationships, whether those that reach “up” to God, “in” to friends and family, or “out” to the wider community, may have long term unknown consequences. That is, how we relate to our world may affect how others relate to theirs—and to God. As the prayer for this week says “all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives.”
Our twelve-year-old granddaughter understood that we were reluctantly entering a new time in our lives when she drew a picture for us about two years ago. The picture has a rainbow background and just one object, a green leaf, falling through the air, with the word “Chapters” written at the bottom. We framed and hung it in the kitchen to remind ourselves that, even in our eighties, new chapters can be positive and healthy. Our reluctance to turn over this new leaf was largely about leaving relationships—great neighborhood, loving friends, warm church. Some of the best relationships of our lives were formed in the last twenty years. Good relationships, we’ve found, are not necessarily life-long relationships—quality beats quantity in this equation. Real time spent listening, laughing, crying, and praying together is what matters. Somehow that’s easier as we age. We, and most of our friends, were grandparents, and our relationships were easy, tolerant friendships built around good conversation, books, music, travel, volunteering, church—very different from earlier relationships centered around children, dogs, jobs and making a mark in the world. We didn’t want to leave. Could we move back to Pensacola after 58 years and make new (old?) friends? Would we find God in residence at Christ Church—we knew he lived at St. Mark’s!
Here’s the amazing truth: it’s OK. Yes, God lives in that beautiful old place on Wright Street just as he does in our modern church down in South Florida, and in all the places we’ve lived and worshipped in since we left Pensacola in 1960. It’s the open, welcoming, worshipping community that matters—that, and our part: listening to God’s call to plant ourselves in a new congregation. We appreciate the diversity of our new parish and are thrilled by its community outreach. We love the music at Christ Church, and the splendor of its corporate worship. And we have finally relaxed enough to be forming new relationships and strengthening a few very old ones. The newest relationship is with Jemiah, a first grader at Montclair School—there is such a spark of God’s light in that child—and the oldest relationships are with family members who are our dearest friends as well. A close family is one of God’s greatest gifts, and we are truly blessed in that department. We live at Azalea Trace, which turns out, despite our initial anxieties, to be a warm, peaceful place and treasure trove of delightful, caring new friends. What a bounty only a year after our move.
I cannot claim to be an expert on good relationships with God, because I am a frail leaf for whom prayer is often difficult. But I see God all over the place, perhaps most often in the people I love and in people who work for peace and justice in the world. Like many Christians I feel the Holy Spirit around me in places of natural beauty and in times of gladness or insight. I hope that loving God is the beginning of prayer and the basis of a sustaining relationship with him. I pray that a relationship with God will ameliorate my influence in his world. It is all a work in progress, not a fait accompli, even for folks my age. We are all struggling toward the light.