“…may there be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”
1 Corinthians 12:26-27
A Friend has been working with her community on the very challenging question of how they are dealing with diversity and differences. This community has been expanding their hospitality for years and found that they had varieties of people in proximity but little real connections between them. They want connection and they want to be God’s hands and feet in the world, but they keep getting tripped up on the small differences that happen when you put any group of people together.
Our bodies have different bits and parts, varying functions and abilities but the whole body works together so we can get around to be and do. Borrowing upon the image of the body to describe the life of our inward Light in action can sometimes be difficult. There are times when the body has a problem like the moment on my 42nd birthday when I woke up to my first and rather serious gout attack. At that moment I was not sure my body was on my side. I’m sure some of you know how that feels. Although we think we know all the parts of the body there really are bits and pieces that we might not have met or may have changed over time. But our life lessons are often most powerfully met within the body. Gouty joints are teaching me about limitations, stretching, flexibility and resilience.
Our ideas and hopes about bodies, as well as of being in relationship with others, are forged in our youth. We learn to speak and interact with one another early in our lives. For some us, there was the experience in living within the bosom of extended family, for others it was a nuclear family, others had dislocation and lived in other situations usually not by choice. Imagine what the children living in the detention camps must be experiencing now. Most of us were living in some sort of neighborhood or situation with neighbors. Maybe we also had a church family, and maybe, for some it was all the above, living in close contact with a broader community. I recall my own home on the street where I was a young girl in a community right outside of Philadelphia. We knew everything about everyone on the street. Adults knew adult things about each other and us kids knew who gave cookies and a cool lemonade after school or on sweltering mid-summer afternoons.
We thought we knew the Fire chief who lived across the street, he was stern, he always planned every detail for our 4th of July parade, carnival and firework display at the high school a few blocks away. It was considered wise to befriend him in case your house was on fire, so everyone always gave donations to support these summer events. One year around July 4th a house down the street really did go up in flames. All the neighbors went out into the street to watch the fire chief and his crew struggle to save the people and the house. The Chief worked for hours, grim and grimy he kept everyone working together and did the save the people and the house. A lot of stuff was destroyed or damaged.
That family had just moved into their home. They were from Greece, which seemed very foreign to us and they had a different religion. Most of us did not know their names, and we could not communicate with them as only the Dad spoke English. But, within a day we knew what that family needed, and we brought them clothes, bedding, food and cooking supplies. We did not need to be told how to go about the task of supporting them, we all knew what a family body needed.
Through this experience, I learned that community is a place where we are connected by being seen and heard, and where we can witness others and be there for them…or not. Our human traits and habits that resist or break connections become known to us too. Paul brings the metaphor of the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12, where Christ is both the unified body of all of humanity, and Christ is also within each individual and unique human part, joined with others as one Body. Paul himself was a spiritual director of these emerging bodies of faith.
In our various expressions of faith, most of us want to feel that we belong and that we are part of a healthy community. Quaker pastor, and author, Doug Gwyn notes that “equality and community were the warp and weft of a spirit led grassroots movement.” Our Quaker message to the world about belonging makes it clear that we offer spiritual kinship. We are kin; we belong to one another in ways that go deeper than skin and bone.
Connection is a deep human need that is filled and satisfied through relationships, both with the Holy and within community. Most times we come at these relationships as if we are singular beings, yet we are one in Spirit. Paul wrote to a quarrelsome, if prosperous community, in Corinth. Teaching the fundamentals of being in community-union (communion), he was asking people to look more deeply, to understand that different parts of the body serve the whole being, we rely on the very differences to be serving the whole body. To do this, we are asked to understand that the immediate, the essence of who we are both transcends the basic mechanics of physical bodies and, paradoxically, is expressed through the body
Job Scott, a Quaker from the 18th century, a respected and well-beloved minister among Quakers in North America, was known for his total dependence upon the immediate moving and empowering of the Holy Spirit, and his unwillingness to minister without a clear sense of the Lord’s will. He said “The I that came, the me the body was prepared for, is he who says, ‘Before Abraham was, I am.’” “This simile allows us to do deep dive, so that “God Becomes all in all.”
Paul is teaching about people who surrender to the I AM, to God. Through this surrender people see their sisters and brothers, all people with appreciation. The Christian is called into a community whose boundaries include all of earth and heaven.
We are gathered as one community, into the one Body, and in this everyone plays their own role in enacting their God given gifts and purpose. This vision of individuated unity reflects the core Quaker theological tenet, which states that there is “that of God within everyone.” God is within everyone, with everyone within God,
I can’t ignore that the Divine speaks through the others, including others whose roots and “belongings” speak to visions of the Divine which may challenge my understanding of God. The Light searches the hearts of all and speaks through many people and in many ways. The question for us is, do we have ears to hear and eyes to see? Will we live in such a way that we acknowledge and embrace the body that we are, all one within God?
I offer you some questions for reflection:
What might our community we live within be like if we lift our eyes beyond our own close circles and realize that we ourselves as one in the Spirit?
How might we extend this to our witness for human dignity during this US crisis at the border?