How do you gather with your friends?
Last night I attended a monthly dinner as part of a group that is considering living together in Intentional Community. We’ve been gathering weekly for prayer and have added a meal on the first week as part of our formation. During the table discussion, we were reflecting on a reading from Always We Begin Again, which is a translation of St. Benedict’s Rule of Life. I was trying to remember a particular word (centered or clarity, I couldn’t remember the exact quote and stumbled through the point I was trying to make) and my friend who had the book asked if it was the bit about “sacrificing our self-centered goals” which actually made my point quite clearly while at the same time making me laugh at myself because that is EXACTLY my struggle but I was obviously not seeing my own point well enough. I’ve got a to-do list, I’ve got the next steps laid out, I’d much rather prefer to organize the chaos, put labels on things and gosh it would be great if God could see that my way works great! My struggle lately has been how to lean into the mystery of the Spirit, to trust the wisdom of the Spirit and to remember that we make the path by walking.
The path that is being made now for me is the joy of being known deeply. We laughed and laughed last night when my friend asked me that question. He had a smile on his face, and I knew instantly that he and I have forged a friendship over prayer and tacos. It takes time to be known well. It takes time and intention to know another person and to be vulnerable with each other. This bond of Christian fellowship is a source of deep spiritual joy.
Brunch as Community Formation
As I reflect on last night’s dinner and prayer, I think also of the group of people who sat near me in a local restaurant Sunday. They were gathered for brunch, with lots of laughter and conversation. Someone arrived late, just from the airport with suitcase still in hand. He was welcomed with hugs and guided to the place saved for him. Small conversations between two or three people were held at different corners of the table. It was clear that brunch is a long-standing tradition with this group of friends, and brunch is how they make intentional time to connect, to listen deeply, to share life with one another.
Several months ago I was visiting one of my daughters and participated in this kind of Sunday brunch gathering. The friends texted each other, setting the place to meet. As they gathered, the conversations happened in twos and threes outside. Waiting 45 minutes for a table? No problem, the gathering was already happening. Sometimes the full group would share a story, sometimes a pair would step aside for a quieter word. Sharing life, sharing conversation, knowing each other deeply. Gathering to share burdens, joys, hopes.
The Problem of Brevity… and Meals as A Step Toward Community Formation
Deep connections and relationships take time and intention. A quick visit allows for introductions, but the deep joy of being known takes time. Relationships formed on short-term mission trips may give us immediate joy but because they are short, there is not time to gather in ways that allow us to be formed into Christian fellowship deeply. We long to be known. We long to have the kind of relationship in which people will save a place for us at the table and welcome us seamlessly into the conversation. We long for the kind of relationship in which someone listens to our hearts and can point us back to God when we step off the path.
As much as I love short-term mission trips, there are limitations to how well we can know our brothers and sisters in Christ who live in another state or another country. We must accept the responsibility to learn the language they speak, the responsibility to learn their culture, the responsibility to be aware of our impact beyond the project we do. As short-term missionaries, we are guests and those we hope to serve with our work are our hosts. It is our responsibility to be mindful of how we gather with our hosts. Do we share meals? Do we take time out of the work day to sit and talk over a cup of tea? Are we listening carefully to their stories, their hopes, their joys? How we gather while on a short-term mission matters. Gathering separately for all our meals and devotionals means we maintain a barrier between us and them. Gathering together makes space for sharing life together. How do you gather when on a short-term mission trip?