The togetherness of the Christian community... grows from a deep sense of being called together to make God's compassion visible in the concreteness of everyday life. -- Henri Nouwen
It's a Sunday rhythm that's old and yet new. When he pulls the sheets aside and pushes into the morning cold, he prepares himself for his weekly practice of solitude. These are the mornings, coffee and journal and table by the window, that do the strong work of letting him listen and bend and become.
For years he's played this rhythm, this quiet practice that forms him; sometimes sermons and scripture, sometimes writing what his dyslexic, studied mind puts in order. But a year ago he set the practice aside, using that time instead to take a group of friends deeper into expressing gospel-lives. And still, he came home full.
Today, those friends now sent to do for others what was done for them, he goes alone again to his place by the window, his coffee and computer, his Christ calling him to come away. And I wonder what he will miss the most.
Going it alone in our spiritual development has a place. At times the silence is when the Voice is loudest. But going with others is the epitome of church, of body, of Trinity. I love the passionate cry I hear from so many today, "I don't want to go to church. I want to BE the church." Amen and amen to that. But being is not exclusive of gathering because the gathering is what shapes our being.
In this season for us, which is both post-church and pre-church, we personally don't gather often. Oh, we do community, team build, share meals, dream -- yes. But we don't sit worshipful and reverent, symbols and song, no table or word or testimony. We don't enter into sacred, or send with a blessing. Not yet. What we do is good. But it's not everything. And I can't decide if I miss the rest. The Spirit evader in me says, "No. Not yet."
But I know that when it seems that community binds, in those same moments it also builds. The church is a people we become, and that becoming can only fully happen in messy unity, not controlled individuality. When we focus on what makes us different -- what we like and don't like, how we learn or don't learn -- we push away from body, away from community. We essentially say 'but' instead of 'and' which is, of course, the point where all dialogues come to an end.
We do not gather for our own purposes, even for our own learning. We gather to create a picture for God of a people moved and changed by him into oneness. And we gather to create a picture for the world that unity in diversity does have a place. Together we put hands and feet to the renewing work that Christ is already doing.
Gathering as a church in worship is a spiritual practice, like prayer and confession and fasting and service. Practices are habits and rhythms that conform us more closely to the image of Christ. We are challenged to express God's worth in ways that are not comfortable to us; sing when it's not our gifting, be still when we'd rather wander, use language that is not our mother tongue. And we also learn to be forgiving with how others squirm and wrestle and balk. It's less about us than we think.
Growth is personal but never private. That big word, sanctification, happens in the context of community -- that state that only exists when we make known our most monstrous ways, our failures and fears and fallacies. The church should call good things out of us, and salve the shame. As a body it offers the legs for the journey, the voice for the call, arms for lifting, new eyes to see. Corporately we become what we cannot become on our own.
A person dedicated to God should move in ways consistent with his character. His character is love, truth, generosity, grace, patience. These are not traits that can be lived in isolation. Love is relational; grace needs a recipient; patience can only abound in a crowd of diverse and growing "others." When we walk away from the community of the church, we walk away from the practice of God.
So, today we'll find a way, he and I, to go and gather. And while it's not the same -- the people unknown, the culture foreign -- we do speak the language. We do know the Christ that calls us all together. And while it's not the community I knew or the community I'm building, it's still the very rhythm -- old and yet new.