It was one of those beautiful moments in life. I was sitting outside on a glorious summer evening in Amsterdam at the conclusion of a wonderful week of vacation. I was enjoying a leisurely dinner with my brother and sister-in-law and a couple from Amsterdam who were co-workers of my brother. We were engaged in a wide-ranging conversation about family, life, and work...and then the conversation turned to the events in America. The Supreme Court had just overturned Roe vs. Wade. An 18-year-old had recently killed students and teachers in Uvalde, Texas. And the divisive political climate had raised concern from this couple from the Netherlands because the U.S. had always been a global leader and a beacon of democracy, and what was happening had ramifications beyond our borders.
Now, I love my country, but it was hard to defend at a time when I am full of those same questions: Why don’t we value our children’s lives enough to do something about guns? How can we be so careless about democracy that we will sow seeds of doubt about our election process in order to preserve power? Why can we not rise above personal interests to seek compromise and serve the common good? You may disagree with me on these points, but every poll points to the fact that collectively we do not believe we are on the right track as a country. Something is amiss, and I don’t know about you, but it is hard to hang on to hope that it is going to get better anytime soon.
So, what to do? Do we throw up our hands and figuratively or literally run away? But how do you escape the world when it keeps impacting you? Hello, climate change. Do we become activists and go all in to try to change our trajectory? Yes…and…how do you not get burned out and filled with anger when progress can seem so slow? And where is God in the midst of all of this? What does it mean to be a person of faith rooted in a belief that love wins, that the kingdom of God is breaking in here and now, and that resurrection changes our reality?
On Brené Brown’s "Unlocking Us” podcast, a story from writer Susan Cain captured my imagination about one way we can live with hope in this time. Susan spoke about an idea that comes from Jewish mysticism where in the beginning everything was one unified divine vessel, and everything was light. Then the divine vessel shattered, and the world we are living in now is the shattered vessel, but with these shards of divine light scattered and buried all around us. Each of us sees different shards, and our task is to pick up the buried shards wherever we find them. The more we become aware of the phenomenon of shards, the more we see them everywhere.
I took my mom to the doctor this week. She has to have surgery. This is what gives me hope: The skill of the physician. His compassion. The medical team that is directing its efforts to one thing—healing for my mom so that she can continue to live a full life. That is a shard of light. Even though I read the newspaper, as I did last Sunday, with article after article containing bad news, my daily interactions with people are filled with goodness. I need to look for the shards.
There was something beautiful about sitting around the table in Amsterdam with some people I knew well some who were new acquaintances, breaking bread and talking about life. I had several interactions like that in Europe where I met people who live in a different context and come from different life experiences. And in our conversations, there was connection. We saw the light in one another. It gave me hope.
I am curious about reclaiming the Christian practice of building deep community. I know we are finding our way of what it means to be church as the pandemic has shifted priorities and attendance patterns. We wonder: How do we get people to “return” to in-person worship? As I ponder that, I can’t help but think about where Jesus spent the majority of his time. Sure, he went to temple for the high holy days, but his daily life was with people wherever he encountered them. Inviting them to gather around table. To journey on the road together. Always sharing stories and life. He helped people see the light in themselves and in one another. It was transformative. It is a simple and powerful practice.
Perhaps that is what our world needs most now: People connecting over a meal, building a relationship, discovering the light in one another, and bringing that light into our daily lives. I know I am always strengthened and blessed, filled with hope, after spending time with someone else in that kind of conversation. But I don’t always make the effort to stretch myself to do it. I need an invitation and encouragement to come and sit at table and linger for awhile. Maybe I am not alone and others are seeking the same thing.
What if we, as the church, intentionally fostered this kind of community and connection beyond our current circles and membership, and just see what happens? Is this one thing we can do that is core to who we are as Christians? In so doing, would hope increase and would there be more light, more ability to see the divine light, within and all around us? And would that begin to change our world? I don’t know for sure, but it has changed the world before. It is the story of the early Christian community. Why not now?
Rev. Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries and clergy assistant to the bishop for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church