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Belonging To Each Other

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. Mother Teresa

An acquaintance’s obituary was published today. The usual things are mentioned until it gets down to the last few lines.  “He was diagnosed with diabetic kidney failure…. Friends from his church volunteered to be tested and a match was found. A great friend donated her kidney, and the transplant lasted an amazing 27 years, saving him from many years of dialysis….”

Ann was the great friend who donated her kidney.  She would never want any hullabaloo made over that. But what a tremendous act of courage and compassion!

In response to the last blog on self-transcendence, Ann wrote, “It has been an emotional ride for me [hearing of the passing of the man she gave her kidney to] as he has eased toward this next step in the journey. I am connected to him in an unusual way. So, it has touched my heart in a way that reveals God's mystery of life and longing and love. We are blessed with joy and pain and connectedness. Being able to see it in our second half of life is rich and full. So much mystery to embrace!

I love those lines Ann writes “we are blessed with joy and pain and much mystery to embrace." Rabbi Sharon Brous writes in The Amen Effect that the spiritual work of our time is to find our way to each other in celebration, in sorrow, and in solidarity… “to show up for each other in moments of joy and pain, vulnerability and possibility - to invest in relationships of shared purpose and build communities of care”… especially now in these days of loneliness and isolation and social rupture.   Brous maintains that our most basic human need is the yearning for real connection and for that to happen we need to reawaken our sense of shared humanity.

That sentiment seems largely right to me…that the spiritual work of our time is to reawaken our sense of shared humanity! Sometimes theologians get this wrong according to theologian, Michael Himes.  They think that the work is to provide persuasive answers to religious questions. Himes says this is totally distorted.  That theology is at it best when it helps us see and feel how immensely deep and how darkly mysterious the experience of being a human being is.

Not many of us will give a kidney.  Some will give a smile.  Some a kind word.  Others may hold a hand or sit silently on the porch with another on our journey together.

A story which touches me is of a police chief in Tennessee (a friend of my mother’s).  We all just called him “Chief.”  Chief had been raised in a challenging environment in one of the most lawless counties in Tennessee. Somehow Chief became a man of humor, wisdom, compassion, and courage despite that. Or perhaps because of that. Who knows? What I do know is that Chief had a deep sense of our common humanity.

One of the many Chief stories was of a tragic, horrendous accident of a young teenage girl. She was stuck under the car she was driving.  Not yet dead but clearly dying.  People at the scene of the accident scratched their heads, turned their eyes away.  There seemed to be nothing anyone could do. 

But Chief knew there was something he could do and he did it.  He lowered himself to the ground and slid under the car next to the young teen.  He talked to her.  He stayed with her, held her hand until she passed away.

That’s the sort of courage and wisdom and compassion that can be fueled by our sense of common humanity. And I think it’s possible…even, and perhaps especially, in these challenging days.

Some of the research at the University of Virginia, years ago, sticks with me. The participants were taught to estimate the incline of a hill quite accurately. However, when they had a pack on their backs, they thought the hill was much steeper than it was.

When a person stood beside them, the opposite happened.  The hill seemed like a little bump.  They thought they could easily climb it.  That’s the power of having someone stand with us on the journey.

One of the people who helped me feel that mountains were only bumps to climb was my mother.  I can still feel her beside me in spirit. She also left me with wise words (I've abbreviated them here) and a spiritual as well as practical model for good living …taking care of self and staying connected to others:

·         The big elements for a good life are strong relationships, humor, and spirituality (purpose and meaning in life).

·         Marriage is more than 50-50. Always do more than your part.  Learn from each other, take responsibility for your part in every fuss.  Pray for your relationship.  Compliment each other, keep up with what’s going on in each other’s lives

·         Don’t waste your sorrow, do something useful with it. 

·         Walk thirty minutes five days a week. Find a partner.

·         Be authentic, don’t hide from your values.

·         Don’t compare your life (your spouse or your kids) to anyone else’s.

·         Stay involved.  Keep learning and contributing through every loss and every season of your life. (Mom worked four days a week as a therapist, was a hospital and police chaplain until she was eighty-six.)

·         Don’t ignore the tough stuff in life but focus on finding the good.  Walk beside people in pain. Be grateful. Appreciate all the working people who are contributing to your welfare like the police, farmers, garbage collectors, teachers, doctors, and nurses.

Mom was filled with a love of life. People said she could “rearrange the heavens.” I’m pretty sure her fullness came from being totally immersed in the spiritual flow of belonging. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom, and thank you to all of those who have, like Mother Teresa, walked beside others and even held humanity in their arms.

How might we journey together to the good life…understanding and joining in our common humanity, standing beside each other, showing up for each other in times of both celebration and pain; embracing vulnerability and possibility and especially the incredible mysterious experience of being a human?

(I would love to hear about the people who have “mothered” you – been beside you as you climbed your mountains and supported your belongingness)




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