Ron Rolheiser eloquently captured the bitter-sweetness of saying goodbye to those we love. This came at an appropriate time for me, as we prepare to tell our community for these past four years good-bye.
We begin leaving home when we are expelled from the womb and life is a series of farewells after that. We spend our lifetimes trying to create homes and communities, but eventually, always, these break apart. To live with that, without giving in to an unhealthy stoicism, nostalgia, or despairing depression, it is important that we understand both the dynamics of death and of Christian community. The death we experience in saying goodbye is not terminal, but paschal. We break up a word to become parts of a bigger one. Smaller circles give way to larger ones. Christian community and true intimacy are not lost. True community, like true friendship, is a shared spirit. It need not be lost when physical death, distance, and commitments break us apart.
Community is not, first of all, nor necessarily at all, a shared roof, a shared city, a shared task, or even an explicitly shared friendship. It’s a shared spirit, a shared way of life. Before Pentecost, the disciples were physically together under one roof, clinging to each other, but they were not in real community. After receiving the spirit, they were never together again under one roof or in one city, but they now were in community. Community, family, intimacy, these are constituted first of all by living in the same spirit, Christ’s spirit…charity, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, mildness, faith, and chastity. When we live within these, we are in deep intimacy with all others who are also living within them, irrespective of the separation that distance and time can cause.
Life has its seasons. There is a time to be together, of intimacy, of shared time and celebration, when God makes us into a word. However, there is also, always, a time when the demands of life, duty, and the Holy Spirit call us to move along. Then is the time for farewell, for pained embraces, for tears, and for the bitter restlessness that accompanies that. But, it’s not like we’d never met. What’s been shared, the word we made, breaks up only to become part of something larger…and we regain each other in that.
When we’ve shared a common spirit and keep that spirit, it no longer matters if we are thousands of miles apart, we remain part of each other, in deep intimacy, silently nurturing each other as we help bring about the final consummation within the body of Christ.