For the past two days I was in New Hampshire for a family reunion. Cousins, some of whom I had not seen in years, sharing stories and food, like Word and Sacrament, nourishing the spirit, the heart. The years and distance fell away. We were One. We vowed to do it again, next summer, and every summer after that.
The older I get, the more I realize that relationships are the most important thing in this life. “To love another, is to see the face of God,” sings my favorite line from my favorite play, Les Miserables. I have grown to know the truth of those words.
My father, Cliff, was an only child. My mother, Helen, was the third of six children. She and her elder sister, Hermine, were just a year apart.
When they were young they double-dated, my mom and dad, Hermine and Arthur. My mom and her sister Hermine married just a year apart, and wore the same wedding dress.
Eight years ago, our mothers died, just one year apart. First Arthur, then Hermine, then my mom, Helen, then my dad, Cliff.
My parents had four children; Hermine and Arthur had four children. When I was a young girl, summer was my favorite season. A highlight of every summer was a visit from my cousins. Hermine and Arthur lived in Mexico, so when they visited, they would stay for a whole month. Their oldest two kids, Art and Jon, would stay with my aunt and uncle. Their youngest two kids, Karen and Chris, would stay with us. Karen was one year older than I, and Chris one year younger. Oh, would we have fun during those summer months. Oh did we get into mischief!
Oh was it good to laugh and reminisce with Karen! On a walk yesterday, we vowed to make this reunion an annual event. We vowed to make sure our children get to know each other. Karen said, “These are the relationships that will always be with us.”
We also celebrated new beginnings in our family: marriages, births, friends who had been grafted in, and therein new additions to the family. We said a toast to “Familia!”
We laughed at the quirks and dysfunctions of our family. But we also lamented the loss of those who had estranged themselves from our family. We feel incomplete without them. We long for their return.
I cannot help but think of a little book by the German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, called “Life Together.” In this splendid little discourse Bonhoeffer wrote about the joys and struggles of living in Christian community. I have found the same teaching in all of the world’s different faith traditions, which all stress that this spiritual life is not a solo sport. We cannot do it alone. We need the support of a family of faith, or a spiritual community. Bonhoeffer compared the community of faith to a family. He said that Christ blessed us with the gift of our family of faith to strengthen and comfort us, but also to challenge and expand us. I remember a banner hanging in the chapel at Harvard Divinity School which read: “Jesus Christ came to comfort the disturbed, and to disturb the comfortable.” That saying echoes Bonhoeffer’s sentiment. When we are disturbed, hurting, grieving, struggling, we need family and community to comfort us. But when we have become too self-absorbed, too complacent, too comfortable, we need others – family or community – to challenge us, to hold us accountable, and to help us to grow and to expand. Indeed how much easier to be with people who are just like us, who think just like us. But how dwarfing, how narrow, how insular, how boring!
Bonhoeffer exclaims, in fact, that God has blessed us specifically with those people we find most difficult, most challenging, in our family or in our community, because it is in fact those very people who stretch us, who expand us, to become bigger people.
If there is ever to be peace in this world, it must start here, in our hearts, in our families, in our communities, where we may not agree with each other on everything, but we love and respect one another beyond our differences, beyond our disagreements, seeing the face of God reflected in each face. May we know that in God’s eyes we are all beloved. May we love one another, as God has loved us. May we be One, as God is One.
This day may you see God in all you encounter,
and may you reflect God to all you encounter.
Linda Forsberg, Copyright August 11, 2015
Photos: Our grandmother, Hermine (Minnie), when she was a young woman, standing, second from left, and our great grandmother, seated, fourth from left; part of our NH reunion (Karen, Haydn, Avery, Nick, Ellie, Leslie, Whitney, Linda, Art; uncle Fritz, Hermine, and Helen; mom and dad at their wedding, Hermine and Arthur at their wedding; Leslie, Karen, Linda; Karen and Linda; Jonathon and Art’s wife, Linda; Uncle Ray, the one remaining of his generation