A Gathering Voices post by Beth Pyles
Some months back on my own blog, I posted a piece entitled Nowhere for a fish to live, which observed that fish bowls really are not suited for the life of a gold fish; indeed, the fish bowl life stunts the growth and shortens the lifespan of the goldfish.
Saturday in Scotland, I took a walk in some very fine gardens with a few friends. One of the sights that always takes me by surprise here are the rhododendron, which are plentiful where I live and grew up in the Virginias, but which are nowhere near the size of these monsters.
Seeing the rhododendron trees (no way are these beauties ‘bushes’), I am reminded that when conditions are just right, we living things just flourish, for it is, I think, in our created nature, to be flourishing things.
It is only when some condition or other of nurture is absent or less than optimal that we are stunted. It’s easy to see this in our physicality, as in the effects of malnutrition and starvation.
But the effects of emotional and spiritual malnutrition are just as lasting and just as devastating.
One of the wonderful thing about our collective memory of the early church as recounted especially in Acts, is the very intentional way in which those communities set out to establish the ideal conditions for nourishing and flourishing:
Sharing – it’s such a fundamental of life that it’s one of the first thing we teach children when interacting with others: share your toys; let Sam have a turn, we admonish them, well knowing that sharing is not only for the benefit of the one receiving, but also for the one giving.
The duty of joy – understanding worship as an act of joy, over and over again, the first Christians are reminded that the state of joy is the product of God’s gift and their own discipline.
Commitment and perseverance – sticking to it, keeping the flame going, are crucial not only for the individual, but also for the entire community.
Generosity – a spirit of giving is as important as the actual giving itself.
Gathering together – coming together for worship and work, the actual being of a community, is the very source of its life, as when Jesus promises to be there whenever two or more gather in his name.
The paradox that is virtually inexplicable, but true, is this: the freedom, the license, not to gather together makes us smaller rather than larger, weaker rather than stronger, less free rather than more.
Without each other, we are but isolated gold fish, living out our lives each in our own bowl, unable to ever truly join with the other fish – and is there anything more joyous to behold than a school of fish moving together? A bush growing into the tree it was always intended to be? A bunch of random people becoming a family and community of faith?