Monday, November 30, 2009

Strength to Accompany

At Christmas we remember how God came as "Emmanuel."  "Emmanuel" means "God with us" and we celebrate how God came to be with us at a particular time in human history in human flesh.  But our Lord also comes to be with us as the Holy Spirit empowers us to walk beside others in their lives today.

The following is a from a chapter of a book by Gary Gunderson entitled Deeply Woven Roots. Youth director and seminarian Nate Bendorf shared it at our staff meeting today. Though the first example Gunderson uses in this chapter is of a pastor's visit, Christian visits and friendships normally occur between non-professionals, when a caring Christ-follower reaches out to someone in need.  And though the example here is of accompanying an older person, we are also called by God to befriend those whose pain and "incapacity" is less a matter of public knowledge.

I am thankful for those who have "accompanied" me with their time, their conversations, and their prayers during many stressful moments.  I've done what I have been able to do in walking beside others too.  I hope we will all be open to giving and receiving in such caring relationships.
It was just a business card next to my mother's bed, but I could recognize the Methodist logo from across the room, the one with the flame wrapping the cross. I didn't recognize the name, but that didn't matter. Fulfilling the most basic expectation of the congregation, the pastor had come by to see Mom, say a brief prayer, and leave a church bulletin.

She had spent a lifetime on the other end of such visits in other cities, even working for a while as the coordinator of visitation at our Methodist church back in Baltimore. I remember how she would pick me up from school, then stop by three or four homes on the way back to ours. The suburbs were quickly sprawling across former fields, and the visitation teams followed just behind the pavers. I had no idea then why we were visiting, what difference it made, or who noticed; it was just something the church did...

...My mom is still of the faith even though she can't get to the church building or hear the sermons or songs. It even hurts her to read much, so she is unable to read Scripture or discuss it in groups as she did for decades. In fact, she can barely hear it when read aloud, picking up mostly the rhythm and accents of familiar verses. But she is still quite literally and physically part of a congregation--they come to her. They accompany her.

For any one person, accompaniment means life itself in many dimensions, even amid frailty. It does not "fix things;' but it allows for continued connection, coherence, context in which meaning and value are still possible. For a: community, accompaniment also means life, the most tangible way that we are held up by and connected to others.

...Wendy Lustbader doses her book Counting on Kindness with a paragraph that gets to the heart of the issue:
The expectation that we will be able to count, on kindness during our time of need becomes one of life's most sustaining convictions. We hope that if we become incapacitated, our friends and relatives will stand by us. We hope that their help will arise out of affection rather than out of pity, and that we will bear our difficulties gracefully enough to keep on inspiring their loyalty. We suspect that the measure of good life is how we are treated at the end.
I suspect that the measure of a community is how we and those we love expect to be treated during the times of incapacity that we will surely experience. Will I be accompanied at all? Will I be surrounded only by those I can pay as long I have the money or insurance to pay them? Will I be alone when I have no power to compel others to help me? Will those I love be alone when I cannot care for them or protect them?
Read Acts 2:37-47 to see how powerful the Christian community was in "accompanying" one another when the Holy Spirit first came upon them.  We are NOT to be alone!

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