If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the
Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the
same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit,
but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own
interests, but to the interests of others.
--Philippians 2:1-4 NRSV
I’ve had multiple conversations this week regarding the difficult decisions people are making about holding family Thanksgiving dinners next week. We’ve never had to do Thanksgiving in a pandemic before, so we are all making it up as we go along. Each family has its own acceptable level of risk for such a gathering. I’ve heard of families proceeding as they do every year and others calling the whole thing off. Either way, Thanksgiving is sure to feel like the NFL games many of us watch on Thanksgiving Day. This year the games are still happening, but without the crowd in the stadium it just doesn’t feel right.
I’ve also heard from clergy friends about the rise in mental health crises they are seeing in their congregations, from depression to full blown breakdowns. In some ways, things seem relatively normal but beneath the surface lies a great deal of anxiety and stress as we navigate these unprecedented times. The struggles of these days demand that we reacquaint ourselves with how much we depend on one another.
Our culture prizes independence and individualism, so much so that we often put one another at risk. Those who argue wearing a mask during a pandemic is somehow oppression prove this point. The very air we breathe is shared by billions of other people and billions more animals and plants. Our very molecules are shared in the world around us wherever we go. Our separation from one another is an illusion.
The researcher and writer Brene Brown writes about how we are all connected. She says, ““I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” A physics teacher once tried to explain a force field to me. I had images of Star Trek and Star Wars in my mind, but he explained it is just the field of energy that exists between any two things or even all things in the universe. It’s there, but we just can’t see it. This is why Albert Einstein wrote, “We are part of the whole which we call the universe, but it is an optical delusion of our mind that we think we are separate. This separateness is like a prison for us. Our job is to widen the circle of our compassion so we feel connected with all people and situations.” Widening our circles of compassion seems like a great idea, because many people are feeling isolated and imprisoned this Thanksgiving week.
In the Christian scriptures, this connectedness which is very real but often unseen by human eyes is called “koinania” often translated into the English word “fellowship” which seems like far too tame a word to me to describe the dynamic power of the Divine connecting us with one another. I grew up hearing the word “fellowship” referred to in terms of a refreshment time which took place in, of course, a church “fellowship hall.” The term seemed to refer to a cocktail hour full of teetotalers. In the New Testament however, “koinonia” refers to a relationship among the faith community which meant sharing in the sufferings of one another just as the group shares in the sufferings of Christ. It also meant partaking in the “light” and the “Spirit” of God not only as individuals but as community.
The surest way I know to help others during this time (and helping ourselves at the same time) is to reach out and to remind people they matter and are not alone. We can become prisoners of our own minds, convinced we are alone in a painful world. A seemingly small gesture can offer light and light to those who feel bereft of both. To have one’s grief, pain or sufferings acknowledged by others is a gift, a validation of the self and perhaps even a lifeline to someone drowning in their pain.
I’ve always heard of neighbors walking next door “to borrow a cup of sugar.” I guess that was a thing once, but I’ve never seen it. I like the image though of someone in the middle of putting together a recipe and short a mere cup of a necessary ingredient. The cooking is at a point where there’s no time to run to the store to buy more, but this small amount is crucial, so one requests the favor.
Today, I’m sensing there are many people who are short a small but necessary ingredient in their Thanksgiving preparations. They need a cup of hope to weather the disappointments and difficulty of these days. Perhaps they are struggling with a loved one’s health condition, they are away from family or they are battling psychological demons. Maybe they are unable or afraid to ask to borrow that cup of hope from you. So, it’s up to you to offer your small cup of hope to them.
Spiritual writer and nun Joan Chittister describes two pathways we can take in life: hope and despair:
When tragedy strikes, when trouble comes, when life disappoints us — as it surely will — we stand at the crossroads between hope and despair. To go the way of despair colors the way we look at things, makes us suspicious of the future, makes us negative about the present. It leads us to ignore the very possibilities that could save us, or worse, leads us to want to hurt as we have been hurt ourselves. When I say that I am in despair, I am really saying that I have given up on God. Despair says that I am God and if I can't do anything about this situation, then nothing and nobody can. To go the way of hope, on the other hand, takes life on its own terms, knows that whatever happens God lives in it, and expects that, whatever its twists and turns, it will ultimately yield its good to those who live it consciously
I am sure Chittister would agree with the idea that sometimes we are unable on our own to choose the way of hope over the way of despair. Sometimes the pain is great and we need the support of community to help us find hope in life. I’ve found that it doesn’t take a lot of hope to help someone find their own path again, but that small cup offered by a friend or loved one is just what is needed.
Today and in the coming days ask for the Spirit of God with whom you are in “koinonia” bring to your mind those in your life who need your cup of hope. You are already connected with them through the energy of God’s love. When their names and faces come to mind, don’t hesitate, immediately reach out to them. They only need to borrow a cup of hope from you.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
6601 Northwest 72nd Street, Kansas City, MO 64151 | 816-741-1851