Last Sunday we asked each other: what was that first experience for you?
"When our son was born premature, 3.5 pounds. Everything was overwhelming! Every day our small community [in our parish] was there for us. They held us! They carried us! I absolutely knew we were not alone."
"I was teaching full-time, I was also in grad school, and I was part of a small group of religion teachers who were working together to give our students a deep and fresh experience of God and of church. One evening I had class and couldn't be at one of our group's dinner gatherings. That night, a friend brought me a piece of bread from the loaf that had been shared. It touched me deeply. I felt part of something much bigger than me."
"I was in mission in Kenya. The people had nothing. Nothing! I hadn't been there long, and didn't know Swahili well at the time. But when we talked with the people, when we visited their homes, I would always hear the words, 'Mungu ni hapa' -- 'God is here.' It's one thing to realize God is here in beauty. But they showed me that God is here in the gritty. It was very powerful."
"My young teen son was in a terrible skiing accident. I was in the helicopter that was bringing him, unconscious, back here to the hospital. I was flying back to medical help, to my husband and friends... but in that moment, I felt completely alone. And in that moment, I had the realization that I could just rest. All I could do was to rest. To rest in God."
"After our first child was born, we had multiple miscarriages. And I was deeply sad, truly depressed. One night my husband urged me to go to church and just be there. Well, that was the last thing that I was likely to do at that moment. But I did it. And as I sat there, I had the image of Jesus holding my unborn babies...."
For you? The first powerful experience of God, of unutterable greatness, transcendent and here with you?...
Each of us, women and men, spoke of an absolute experience that I Am Not Alone. I Am Part of A Whole.
Divinity through community. Divinity at the limits of aloneness.
Theology is words that try to share these experiences. But no words can ever be huge enough. Sometimes music or poetry can be almost enough. Readings can give insights we would not recognize on our own.
But for many of us, it comes back to community. Community helps us interpret the experience and recognize if the experience is valid. Even if it's just telling a spouse or a friend, asking them to hold it with you. Asking them to tell you that you're not nuts, you're in touch with something deep and real and true. And having the humility to ask them if you are being stretched past your capacity to absorb yet - which can actually be dangerous.
Karl Rahner, Jesuit priest and great theologian of the 20th century, said that "Mit Mensch" defines humanity: connectedness, being with each other. This is where so often our little group has found transcendence that touches us in the core of our being.
In community, in transcendence, may we welcome the experience of divinity beyond all words.
Thank you to my community for the experience of you, and the experience of my self, that you give so generously. Thank you for permission to share some of our conversation, above. I'm hoping to write something here about how we came to be what we are together - and I'll check with you first.
By the way, the quote at the start is from John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopal bishop of Newark, NJ.