Yet another eerie sense of timing and once again described too dramatically (eerie?).
Yesterday I was thinking about some of the political issues that are dividing America right now and I was reminded that no matter how we try to define the rights of the individual we end up wrestling with how often that overlaps with what’s best for the group or others in the group. We cannot completely separate ourselves from community. We are relational beings, we need each other and we affect each other profoundly. I’m not sure there is an individual decision we can make that will not have a ripple effect on those around us, for good or for bad, however we define good and bad. That of course is part of the problem. But I digress.
This morning I read another chapter in ‘The Hungering Dark’ by Frederick Buechner. Chapter 5 is titled ‘Pontifex’, I had to look it up. Again, these words of Mr. Buechner spoke to me on many levels, from the beginning verse, through the poetic and historical references and ending with a beautiful, wisely worded, prayer. There are only 4 pages but I want to repeat and comment on every paragraph. I’ll try to limit my words to increase the probability that someone will read what I have written (why that is important, is something to think about).
“He has put my brethren far from me,
and my acquaintances are wholly estranged from me.
My kinsfolk and my close friends have failed me;
the guests in my house have forgotten me;…
I have become an alien in their eyes.”
I am living in Japan with my husband. The rest of my family and friends of 52 years live in America (well, a few live in other parts of the world, but you get my point). For almost 2 weeks now my husband has been on a business in the States and at this moment is preparing to have dinner with our adult children and their significant others. Last weekend he was with dear friends in Texas; eating, drinking, watching movies, talking, laughing, listening to music, and of course working very hard. So I related to that first line: “He has put my brethren far from me.”
On a phone call with my mother a few days ago, I mentioned that one of the reasons this move was not as difficult as it would have been a few years ago, is because I’ve experienced the limitations of all relationships. Staying doesn’t guarantee ‘closeness’ with the people I love. “My kinsfolk and my close friends have failed me.” And even more disturbing, I have failed them. More than once.
I think I obsessively update my facebook status, write blog posts and share photos because I fear the next phrase: “..the guests in my house have forgotten me…”
“I have become an alien in their eyes.” I am an alien, ‘Gaijin’ here in Japan. The little children sometimes stare at me, I look different. I don’t understand how to behave in every situation, I am different. The second Sunday we were here our pastor preached that we are all ‘Gaijin’ as Christians, for this world is not our home. He said once you have lived in another country and acclimated and enjoy it, you never feel truly at home again. When in either place we miss something about the other place. He said this is a blessing because we have a greater sense of being of ‘another world’.
Back to Buechner’s book though: He quotes Dr. Donne “No man is an island,…..I am invloved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.” He uses the spider web as another metaphor, “…touch it anywhere, you set the whole thing trembling…..Just as John Donne believed that any man’s death, when we are confronted by it, reminds us of our common destiny as human beings: to be born, to live, to struggle a while, and finally to die. We are all of us in it together…..As we move around this world and as we act with kindness, perhaps, or with indifference, or with hostility, toward the people we meet, we too are setting the great spider web a-tremble. The life I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place and time my touch will be felt. Our lives are linked together. No man is an island.”
I think about some of my new friendships with women here in Japan. The conversations about desiring to be married, the difficulty of being women in relationship with men, the differences of cultures and what it means to trust God. I wonder how my words have affected the spider web.
Then he goes on to say, “But there is another truth, the sister of this one, and it is that every man is an island…..We sit in silence with one another, each of us more or less reluctant to speak, for fear that if he does, he may sound like a fool. And beneath that there is of course the deeper fear,….that maybe the truth of it is that indeed he is a fool……So either we do not speak, or we speak not to reveal who we are but to conceal who we are, because words can be used either way of course.”
“The paradox is that part of what binds us closest together as human beings and makes it true that no man is an island is the knowledge that in another way every man is an island. Because to know this is to know that not only deep in you is there a self that longs above all to be known and accepted, but that there is also such a self in me, in everyone else the world over. So when we meet as strangers, when even friends look like strangers, it is good to remember that we need each other greatly you and I, more than much of the time we dare to imagine, more than most of the time we dare to admit.”
And then at the end of the third page of this chapter, “Island calls to island across the silence, and once, in trust, the real words come, a bridge is built and love is done – not sentimental, emotional love, but love that is pontifex, bridge-builder. Love that speaks the holy and healing word which is: God be with you, stranger who are no stranger. I wish you well. The islands become an archipelago, a continent, become a kingdom whose name is the Kingdom of God.”
His prayer is my prayer this beautiful, bright, sunny, cool, Autumn morning in Yokohama, Japan:
“Father and Lord,
Most near and most far, listen to our silence before thee as well as to our prayers, because often it is the silence that speaks better of our need. Speak thy joy into our silence. Breathe thy life into our less than life, not for our own sakes only but for the sake of those to whom, with thy life in us, we may ourselves bring life.
Much as we wish, not one of us can bring back yesterday or shape tomorrow. Only today is ours, and it will not be ours for long, and once it is gone it will never in all time be ours again. Thou only knowest what it will hold. The chance to speak the truth, to show mercy, to ease another’s burden. The chance to resist evil, to remember all good times and the good people of our past, to be brave, to be strong, to be glad. We know that today as every day our lives will be touched by thee and that one way or another thou wilt speak to us before we sleep, for the very moments themselves of our lives are thy words to us. Give us ears to hear thee speak. Give us hearts to quicken as thou drawest near. Amen”