I've been fortunate to be part of a group of extraordinary women who meet weekly to meditate together and to discuss shared readings and how those readings resonate in our lives. We re-united yesterday, after a couple of months apart, and spent our time bringing one another up to date on the progress of our lives.
This image particularly makes me think of a statement one of these dear friends made, about missing community. Like me, she's been extremely active in church in the past, and, also like me, she's rarely attending now, and missing that connection. It's not that our congregation is flawed -- far from it: both priest and parishioners are delightful and welcoming.
... Which is why this picture brought it up for me: it looks like the cluster of rose hips is not only joyfully engaged with one another, but also reaching out in invitation to the other. It's clear we're all made of the same stuff, all borne on the same bush. But one is just -- turned away, living in the shadows.
I remember talking with a Lutheran pastor about this odd phenomenon several years ago, before the Presbyterian church I was attending at the time fell apart and I returned again to the reassuring rituals of the 8 am Episcopal service. I was shocked when he suggested that the sense of separation was perhaps my fault, not any matter of conscious inclusion; that perhaps I wasn't choosing to reach out.
Now -- especially as I read about the prophet Jeremiah -- I understand that he is both right and wrong: I strongly suspect that the source of the separation is not in this case due to any actions on the part of the community. No community is perfect, but when we need them it is easy to overlook their imperfections. But the fault may also not be my own.
Surely, having grown up as an only child, I learned early to be comfortable with my own company, and, as I grew, to relish increasingly rare moments of alone time. So to that extent the fault could be mine, in not needing others quite so much, in being reluctant to break from alone time or creative time to take on the inevitable responsibilities associated with being part of a community.
But I am also beginning to understand that this sense of separateness is an integral piece of how I was made; that God, who says at the beginning of Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you," somehow uses my separateness, just as God uses my gifts and weaknesses, for purposes that may not always be clear to me. And if I see it that way, then I can begin to understand also that the tension created between the hunger for community and the sense of a separate self serves as a fuel for much of what I create -- both words and images.