Relationships that Matter
November 10, 2013
Bonnie A. Perry
Years ago Annie Dillard had an exquisite article in Harper’s Magazine. I remember her opening line was something to the effect of—“If, you stop to think about it there really are very many more dead people than alive.” There really are very many more dead people than alive… I read that and read it again and air just leaked out of my lungs. I remember, clearly, sitting up, looking around my living room, my then dog Annie was curled up under Susan’s chair and Susan was preparing a class at the dining room table. I remember thinking, what the hell am I doing? What am I doing that really matters? Given, that death is where we are all headed what am I doing here and now? With whom am I doing it?
Today’s Gospel, from Luke, is another scene in Jesus’ on-going fencing match with the Pharisees and Sadducees. Religious authorities who typically would have been content to spar with each other have for a variety of reasons joined together to tag team Jesus and hopefully, eventually take him down. Today’s absurd theological conundrum, right up there with what color wings might an angel wear were it to dance upon the head of a pin…” Concerns a woman who marries seven brothers each of whom precedes her in death. The question the Sadducees ask of Jesus is : in heaven whose wife is she? Now, in our context we might want to ask—what the heck is happening that every single one of her husbands is now dead….? Different times….
Jesus’ answer although also somewhat convoluted has a line in it that makes sense—that really stands out to me. Jesus says, quoting Moses, who quotes God, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the living for all of them are alive.” The God of the living…Jesus’ point being that those who have died are yet alive which is great news, but of more interest to me—is what does it mean to be the God of the living. What does it mean for us to be alive?
I officiated at a marriage yesterday evening. It was an opposite-sex marriage so it wasn’t one of the trendy ones—but it was sweet. It was good. Emily Rowe and David Wiegand. Some of you may know Emily. She’s an 11 o’clocker. Late twenties, been attending here for 4 years or so. Tall, long curly hair, she ushers regularly. She used to leads a cooking team once a month for our community kitchen and food pantry she is a leader at our All Saints’ Cafes. She is of this place. And what an honor to preside at her ceremony. Two folks in it for the long-haul—making huge promises come what may.
I have to say as I was doing the rehearsal on Friday night I did indeed find myself tearing up. It might have been the combination of singing: Charles Wesley’s: All Love Divine, All Love and Meatloaf’s, I can do anything for love…. Maybe that brought tears to my eyes or maybe it was the simple fact that now, in this state of ours and in this diocese of ours, in this church of ours I will soon be able to officiate at marriages: for opposite and same sex couples. Each equal. Each valid. Each pregnant with possibilities. I have to say it made me cry.
What does it mean to be in alive? What does it mean to be in relationship with the God of the living? It means to be in it for the long haul—come what may.
My last evening in Mexico we went out of the city and up into the hills to do an evening prayer service. It was cold for Xalapa—around 50 and windy and raining. We hopped in a borrowed car four of us, the other borrowed car had stools. I had the heavy backpack filled with the Spanish Book of Common Prayer books.
We drove for 25 minutes. Parked and walked up a paved street to a dirt street, to a dirt trail to a series of ruts that went up for about quarter mile or so. We went past, cows, chickens, and dogsUp we walked. I was happy I changed into sneakers. Up we went. As we neared the top of the hill Byron and the three other lay leaders—started knocking on the doors of the tiny rooms in which families live. “Come join us—we’ll be having evening prayer.” It being the end of the All Saints’ and All Souls day weekend it was a perfect time to gather and pray. Unlike the other times they had invited people to pray while I was visiting—this time only a handful of people joined us. Hace frio—it was cold.
We gathered on a mud ridge of sort—between the two rooms that are Juanita’s home. On one end is the room where she cooks—with a propane cylinder chained to a fence post. Clean laundry hung in effort to dry under the ubiquitous blue plastic tarp. Although the floor was cement, clods of red rich clay covered the floor. In contrast the other room—the room where she and her family slept—that floor was immaculate—I noticed each time she entered that room she left her shoes at the door and switched to pretty pink slippers.
Junanita, herself—looked a bit like many of you. She was taller than me—in Southern Mexico—it turns out that I’m tall. She was mid-forties, hair dyed light brown, she wore a dark knit sweater and a pair of dark brown pants with black flip flops. I was amazed at how incredibly clean she was—given that it was fiercely raining and there was mud everywhere. My sneakers were now red clay distributers their yellow color well South of orange and heading fast to brown. I’d been on the hill for 30 minutes and my clothes were a mess, she lives there and she was immaculate.
Juanita’s daughter and granddaughter were with her. We placed the plastic stools in a circle under the tarp and waited for others to arrive. Seven or so women and men and two little boys appeared. Out came a lovely wooden table, with a pressed immaculate doily upon it Juanita placed and a plastic 2 foot tall statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. A candle was lit. The prayers began.
What caught me by surprise was opening the Spanish Book of Common Prayer and seeing in front of me signatures of people from All Saints’. Karen and David Howe, had bought the books, brought them to All Saints’ a bunch of us signed them and then the Howe’s shipped them down to Xalapa. Of course, I remembered all of that but that still didn’t stop me from initially being taken aback at seeing our signatures in such a foreign space. Two worlds colliding, overlapping, coming together and making a whole—two worlds of relationships, one to the other.
What matters? What is exceptional in our lives upon which we must focus? Upon which the God the living will share our concern? How then are we daring to connect? How are we vulnerable? Learning and Caring? How are we pushing ourselves, taking our souls beyond ourselves? How are we in long-term relationships? It is at the limits of our personal orbits that we will encounter the sacredness of our lives……push ourselves beyond that which makes us comfortable.
Long-term—that matters—long-term intimate relationships and connections of all types and sorts well that is Holy work. For it puts us in a spot where our souls can be broken open—caring. Where we encounter the mystery, the grief, the sorrow, the happiness, the joy and wonder—it is in those connections that we encounter the living God.
Copyright November 2013 Bonnie A. Perry