July 15, 2014

We All Live in the Same House

This weekend I went on a retreat with my church. About 30 of us stayed together in a large house, where we cooked, prayed, sang, and talked.

We began the weekend by talking about what we had individually brought with us to the retreat. Someone talked about a busy work life, another talked about new beginnings. Several others talked about broken relationships.

As I sat there, I felt myself focusing outward and away from myself. Last week was a very busy week, and I was tired and preoccupied with all of the things, mostly good, going on in my life. As others spoke, I felt all of this, the to-do lists and the meetings and the usual minor anxieties, coming into perspective.

A church retreat is, at best, a kind of microcosm of what community can be. We all live in the same house, and we must work together for our community to function.

And it is work, to be sure. I am an introverted and somewhat shy person, and while I love these retreats and the people who attend them, they take effort. It takes energy to generate conversation and navigate relationships, and to simply be in the presence of other people for extended periods of time can be exhausting. Yet, once I was there and put in a little effort to listen and to speak with others, I was glad I had come.

We all live in the same house in a larger sense as well. We must share the earth and our resources and we must take care of each other. Living with other human beings is only possible, I think, if we remember that each of us is dealing with their own history, both the good and the bad, and that our story is only part of a larger story.

As Joel Avery, a seminarian at Yale and parishioner, reminded us in his sermon on Saturday evening of the retreat, you can’t love God, who is wholly other, if you don’t love the others in your own life, right there in front of you, the people you can love but can only begin to know.

We sang a lot on this retreat, often a capella. I don’t have a great ear, and so I have to listen carefully to match the pitch, both to myself and to others around me. I don’t know every if I get it quite right, but nonetheless the music we make is often beautiful.

You can’t make anything beautiful and good if you don’t listen.

We all live in the same house and we can only live there if we listen and love each other to the best of our ability.