Staying at the Table

My husband and I recently celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary—an occurrence most people don’t even get a chance at, and I had wondered if we would get to.  Close to the anniversary, by chance I read a novel, watched a movie, and read portions of two books all touching on the theme of the gifts of long-term relationships.

The novelCrossing to Safety, was about the friendship of two couples, whose marriages, despite severely trying challenges, carry a deep abiding, a kind of oneness, arising from the couple’s commitment to one another.  Their long-term friendship also commands attention.

The Netflix movie that arrived at that time was a Chinese movieComing Home, about a man who is sent away during the Cultural Revolution but is rehabilitated after it is over.  When he returns to his family, he finds his wife suffering from psychogenic amnesia and unable to recognize him.  The beauty of the film is how he stays by her.  Again there is the abiding, the oneness, the fundamental commitment even in the midst of serious trial.

In the book portions, one, Witnessing Whiteness, about developing cross-race friendships, named the value of being willing to embrace conflict when it arises, staying at the table.  Being undefended enough to really listen makes it possible “to find the kernel of wisdom contained within the argument” and to build the kind of trust that sustains a relationship.

The other, Invitation to Love, pointed to the gifts that can come in a committed, long-term relationship with its dailiness.  “Difficulties arise,” says author Thomas Keating, “when a committed relationship is succeeding.”  When we feel loved, we are more real and our shadow sides emerge. “When a couple bears with each other’s failures, dark sides, and weaknesses, they minister the love of God to each other.  Human love is a symbol of God’s love.”

When a theme shows up over and over I take note.  I have learned that the struggles of a committed relationship—in marriage, friendship, or work—can be the unexpected wrapping paper for the gifts of God.  Sit tight and be sure to give thanks.

Queries:

What makes a committed relationship?  In the messiness of a long-term, committed relationship how might you experience or express the love of God?

How might you be called to stay at the table with God?  How has your relationship with God grown?

Prayer:

Merciful God, help us to know the difference between times when we need to sit tight through conflict and pain, and when we need to end the relationship.  When it is time to stay at the table, help us to do that.

For further reflection:

“Abide in me as I abide in you.  Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me” (John 15: 4).

“[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (I Corinthians 13: 7).

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Our Father

There was a period of time when I did not like the Lord’s Prayer (or the Our Father).  I thought it was sexist and presented a theology I didn’t appreciate or believe.  Especially after I learned from Judy Brutz to write in my own words what each part of the prayer meant for me, I was able to open to it more.  And as time has gone on and I have prayed the prayer, new things have come to me.

One thing I have liked about the prayer is its having been prayed for centuries and by people all over the world.  Currently most of the hours of the day it must be being prayed somewhere.  That feels like such a uniting force.  I value the “Our” in the prayer.  This God to whom we pray belongs to all of us—not to only one of us or to only one group of us.  We all belong to God.  And in God we all are in relationship with each other.

Only recently have I appreciated the naming of God as “Father” in this prayer.  To have been fathered is to have been given birth, to bear some of the genetic makeup of that father.  How wonderful to think that as a child of the Father, we bear characteristics of the Father.  As Friends say, “there is that of God in each of us.”  There is a kinship and a commonality that we share with all people.  There is in us that which reflects God’s being if we will let it.  We don’t have to create that nature; it is already present in us.  What joy to grow into that inheritance.

Queries:

How does the Our Father/Lord’s Prayer function in your life?

What helps you feel one with God and all of creation?  How are you called to make real that oneness?

Prayer:

Pray the Lord’s Prayer (the Our Father).  The value of this prayer does not depend on your beliefs or feelings.  To simply repeat it makes a difference, whether you notice that difference or not.  If it helps, put the prayer into words that are meaningful to you at this time.

For further reflection:

“To [his saints] God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

“The Father . . . will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.  This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you” (See John 14: 15-17).

[Of the Lord’s Prayer] “what you do not understand, treat with reverence and be patient, and what you do understand, cherish and keep” (St. Augustine: Sermons for Christmas and Epiphany, trans. by Thomas Comerford Lawler, Newman Press, 1952, p. 70).

The Bible

I don’t want to read the Bible as a book of rules, or of science or history as we now understand those disciplines. I want to read it because it is a book of Life and a book about Love.

I cherish the Bible because it makes me part of a much larger story—not confined to my family heritage, to this culture, this country, or this time. Having heard, read, studied, and prayed the Bible for years, it is part of me and I am part of its story. It guides, comforts, teaches, and challenges me and keeps my life from being just about me. It reminds me that I am loved always and forever. It gives meaning and purpose.  A Vietnam veteran told my husband’s history class that he got through his service in the war by reading a pocket New Testament that he carried.

The Bible is a book for those who are open to faith. Well-educated intellectuals (“the wise”) may read it and scoff while those who have had less privilege (“little children”) understand it well and find comfort and hope. It makes me think outside my box. For example, in a world that sets up so many boundaries and divisions, I read “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ” (Gal. 3:28).

Admittedly I can also read passages that upset or mystify me. Sometimes I dig deeper and search for a way to make sense of the passage. Sometimes I let those go for a time. There may be another context when those passages will open up for me. I once read a single Psalm daily for a week. Almost every day something different in the Psalm caught my attention and spoke to me.

I don’t know what the key is that unlocks the Bible’s treasures for someone. But if one does want to be opened to the Bible, I feel sure a way will be provided.

Queries:

Why do you read, or not read, the Bible?

How has the Bible impacted you, or how could you be open to what it has to offer?

Prayer:

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119: 105).

For further reflection:

About scripture St. Augustine writes: “What you do not understand, treat with reverence and be patient, and what you do understand, cherish and keep.” See St. Augustine, Sermons for Christmas and Epiphany, trans. Thomas Comerford Lawler (NY: Newman Press, 1952), 70.

“I don’t read Scripture to learn doctrine. I don’t read it to find answers to every question. I read it to find God.” Carole Spencer, 1999, quoted in Catherine Whitmire, Plain Living: A Quaker Path to Simplicity (Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2001), 118.