On this week of Memorial Day, I am inside, looking out. I know it is suddenly summer time. To me, that has always meant both the challenge of mountain trails, the wonder of high peaks and their far views. The peace of my daily paddle up a quiet river, but also hours of sitting on my summer deck, thinking long thoughts about life, and faith, and churches and ministry, and writing about them all, and what they mean to me, and what I pray they can mean to my fellow Christians, the church of Jesus – so precious to me now, in my old age.
Today there’s a sadness in my soul, about being inside and not outside, about sitting sheltered in my little alcove and not sitting in the stern of my Old Town canoe and “paddling the Pine.”
Part of it is a little struggle of identity: of not being able to drive across America to the hills of home where so much of me was fashioned. It is that question of who am I in this world, especially now that I have come to last days, and the awareness of having had a long life that so many do not get to have. And I don’t mean a life of sitting, and thinking, and writing, but a life of declaring what I believe to be true, and of persuading others of the wonder of the One Who is the “Truth,” and therefore the very “Way” to “Life,” itself.
Because of that One Who is the Way of Life itself, I am aware that I have never been a comfortable part of the groups of the world in which I was growing up: the prep school to which I was sent and where I was even a leader, my college, my theological seminary, the towns where I lived, the churches where I served. I was the uncomfortable one, the outsider if you will, because the Truth I loved and tried to serve was outside the bounds of the pleasant and easy associations others seemed to have.
And this day I pick up the Spring Issue of the Union Collective, the magazine of that graduate school of which I was never a comfortable part. The cover picture is of a crowd of more or less young people engaged in a protest march, lifting signs that read, “Eco-Justice Caucus at Union,” with a cover heading of “Hearing the Cry of the Earth.” Inside are stories of “Ecowomanist Vision: A Union Story.”
Nor have I for years felt really part of that school that gave me great teachers like Reinhold Niebuhr and the Old Testament scholar, Dr. Muilenberg.
A recent funny correspondence with a wildly white-haired retired college professor, a fellow resident here, spoke of his minister on the coast of Maine who knew me and delighted in describing me as a “Harvard-Union Seminary Evangelical” – a combination that is just not supposed to be. All mutually exclusive categories. I laughed and shared in my friend’s delight. Of course, those titles are all a contradiction in terms.
Something in me would love to be accepted by each of those worlds. But it is not to be. Nor does it need to be, especially at this stage of the game.
Too many decades have passed for me to be trapped by any one of those identities. Much more precious to me have been the words of dear and long friends, who have written – by way of birthday greeting – words from their own deep heart, of simply what my life and their life together, have meant to them. And they all have to do with the journey we have taken together as friends and comrades, beloved brothers and sisters in that fellowship that Jesus gave to the world, invited all who would, to join Him. It is that company of people known originally as those of “The Way,” committed to the One above all others Whom God sent into the world to be “The Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
What an honored fellowship it is. How deeply those of that company recognize each other, and are sustained and upheld – in love – by each other.
It is the company I want to cultivate, and want all whom I love to be part of it – finding wholeness, true life within that company. And so find ourselves strengthened to meet the crises of life, to walk through its deep valleys, whether pandemics, or war, or the fear of loneliness.
I pray to be a friend to all whose hearts are open, to joining that beloved company, on their way together, to their forever-home, in heaven.
Love to you, on this journey.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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