At an early morning klatch with two friends over vanilla lattes (I had my regular, boring black coffee) we, per custom, talked about current events, our families, health concerns, and job-related issues.
After nearly an hour, our, really their conversation shifted to religion and spirituality. For the next few minutes, I was a privileged listener as they shared vulnerable, introspective words about their journeys. (Some details I knew. Some, not. Nevertheless, I was reminded that knowing something about another is not the same as knowing another.) I was touched, moved at my core. With their permission, I share their testimonies.
“I was born into a church-going family and raised never to question my beliefs, which weren’t really mine. As soon as I could choose, I left church. Later, almost by accident, I stumbled through the door of one in my neighborhood. It felt warm and welcoming. For the first time in my life, I was invited to question what I believed or what I thought I believed. I feel liberated to find myself in ways I’ve never known.”
“My parents were pretty eclectic. They dabbled, sampling a bit of this and that. We moved a lot, too, resettling every few years. I learned tolerance, but I wasn’t sure I believed anything. Here’s where my story’s similar. When I grew up, driven by some vague yearning for connection, I looked for a church. I found one. Teaching the faith is central. Still, questioning is encouraged, even expected. ‘Liberated’ is a good word. I now understand that I believe and what I believe. And I’ve gained a new, deeper sense of myself.”
This morning, thinking of my friends, I reflected on these words: Do not remember the things of old. I, your God, am doing a new thing.
Isaiah prophesied to a captive people in Babylon, who longingly remembered the centuries-old flight to freedom of their forebears from Egypt. Isaiah called the Israelites not to look back to that exodus, but forward to their release from bondage, declaring that this new thing would be liberation and transformation. In that first exodus, the people passed through desert that remained desert. In this new exodus, the people would pass through wasteland remade: “I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
Did rivers flow in the desert? Probably not. But that’s not the point. The prophecy wasn’t about wilderness, but people. They were to be transformed. Freed to be and to become who they were created to be: “I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, those whom I formed for myself to declare my praise.”
My friends, liberated from their pasts, felt transformed. Or perhaps they, believing themselves transformed, felt liberated. I don’t think it matters. For a commonality of their experience, one that works in either direction, is community, which, bearing gifts of challenge and acceptance, grants freedom to be and to become.
This I continue to relearn through the communities in which I, paraphrasing a prayer, live and move and have my being. I am challenged by criticism earnestly given and praise honestly bestowed. I am called to be truthful about myself, to live authentically; more honest, present, responsible, response-able, and when I fall short to try again.
As it was for Israel, for my friends, and for me, so I believe for all: People make a person.
This word, though not daring to call it prophetic, is important for our cyber-connected, hyper/über-cluttered warp speed world. Though community and communication derive from the same root, meaning, to share, we have numerous ways to connect without seeing faces, hearing voices, touching or holding hands. We live moment to atomistic moment, in tightly spiraling, largely non-concentric and separate circles; disengaged from others and ourselves, except in those moments of seemingly random collision that pass for human encounter.
As I believe my friends discovered, it is a radically counter-cultural and ever new thing to seek one’s self and life in community, discerning afresh the truth of that paradox: We can be and become fully our individual selves only with and through others.