I know it’s hard to believe on a day like today, given the last couple of days of a resurgence of winter, but we really are heading toward spring, really!
Isn’t today officially the first day of spring, the spring equinox, March 20?
My thoughts naturally turn toward one of my favourite things to do in the spring and summer – biking.
We have a bike rack that attaches to the back of our car. So at the beginning of every summer season, I attach our “Thule” bike rack to the back hitch of our car – and we’re set for another great season of biking riding!
It’s interesting, that every time I carefully and slowly place our bikes on the rack bars, I get an up-close view of the bicycle wheels, and the very many spokes of the wheels; the many interlacing, overlapping spokes of the bicycle wheels.
Those long, thin, medal spokes run from the centre of the wheel – the hub – where they’re bunched closer to each other, and radiate outward toward the outside circumference of the wheel, the rim and tire. These long, thin, medal spokes keep the wheel intact, holding the hub, and the rim together, enabling the wheel to do its job.
It’s really quite something – the construction of a wheel.
I talk of an image of a wheel, because it’s a really good one when we want to think about Christian spirituality, prayer, and how all of that is lived out in community.
Over the last several weeks during our Lent midweek homilies, we’ve been making the point that the practice of the Christian faith, the essential component to Christian spirituality, is community; coming together into mutually supportive and caring communities. Ours is a communal faith. We cannot grow in love and trust in God, we cannot deepen our awareness of God and become more fully the people we are meant to be, all by ourselves. We need a faith community.
6th century monk and abbot Dorotheus of Gaza talks of the image of a circle, or wheel, and its centre, or hub, to explain the reason why community is so essential to a lived spirituality. He imagines people standing around on the circumference of a large circle facing each other toward the centre. Then, he asks us to imagine the centre of the circle as the place where God is.
As each individual on the circumference, like following the line of a spoke, begins to draw closer to God in the centre of the circle, what happens at the same time is that each individual person gradually draws closer to each other, illustrating the point that the closer one truly is to God, the closer one is to others in genuine community.
But we also know how hard it is to live in community with other people, to live in a family, or to relate to others who are different from us. It can be messy, complicated and hurtful. It’s not easy.
But that’s nothing new. Even those early churches as we read about in the Book of Acts and Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and others, those early churches were rife with conflict, disputes, and divisiveness. It’s just part of human nature. When we open ourselves up to other people, things inevitably can get messy. Marriages falter. Faith communities have power struggles. Neighbours fight with each other over fence lines and drainage problems.
We might legitimately wonder: How could God ever have intended for us individuals to live in community, and for communities to be a blessing for the world? How could that ever have been the cosmic, mystical plan in God’s great scheme of things?
Wouldn’t it just be so much easier to leave behind the stinky, mucky, messiness of groups, faith communities, churches, and other people, and just go be a hermit somewhere by oneself in a cave? Doesn’t that seem somehow more appealing and attractive?
Except for the fact that it’s God who takes away the anxiety and hostility between people. As we remain open to God, as we get closer to God, using that great wheel imagery of Dorotheus of Gaza, as we come to know Jesus – not just know about him, but come to know and experience him personally in our lives and hearts – we realize that God takes away hostility and anxiety between people.
As the letter to the Ephesians (2:14) says, “For Christ is our peace…Jesus, who has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” Jesus takes down the dividing walls between people. God warms our stone-cold hearts frozen in fear, hostility and anger, and takes away all hostility… thereby making caring community possible.
Finally, the wheel is also a great image for prayer, meditation, connection to God who is at the centre of all life.
Imagine in your mind’s eye, as a wheel turns and goes round and round, sometimes even at very fast speeds, there’s a part of the wheel that always remains still.
You know what that part is? It’s the hub, the centre of the wheel. No matter how fast the wheel may be turning, the hub, the very centre stays still. There, you find stillness. Without stillness at the centre, there could be no movement at the circumference.
Prayer, or meditation, is the work of finding and becoming one with this stillness. “Be still, and know that I am God” proclaims the Psalmist (46:10).
And then, out of that quiet, still centre where God is, out of that experience of the Holy One in Jesus, our actions can radiate outward toward others, moving out toward others like spokes on a wheel. Our actions can be as loving and authentic and caring as possible.
Our busy daily activity, as represented by the turning circumference of the wheel as it goes round and round; the busy doing of our work every day, our busy acts of love and care toward our family, friends, and others – all of that is always connected to the quiet stillness at the hub, at the centre of our lives, our hearts, and our world.
How can the messiness of life together in faith community be the context in which we find healing, personal transformation, wholeness and the presence of God?
It’s possible. But not because it depends on us. But because it depends on God, God who calls us, draws us together, and makes us whole, God who is at the quiet centre of all that is.