It is a chilling statement.

“I joined this church because it gave me such a strong warm sense of belonging.”

It is not that I have anything against “a strong warm sense of belonging.” Human community can be a beautiful thing.

It is just that I have an abiding awareness of the frailty to which we human beings are heir. I know that “a strong warm sense of belonging” is temporary. It will one day come crashing down.

We humans have an unlimited capacity for failure in relationship. We are experts at betrayal, misunderstanding and disconnection. Any communication between two people that can go wrong, will go wrong. The rough edges of my life will one day rub up against the rough edges of your life creating pain where once there may have been a “strong warm sense of belonging.”

Being in human community hurts. The tender sense of connection with which we may be blessed for a time as we journey with others, is tenuous at best. Life wobbles, people move on, ideas change, attitudes alter. Even the most reliable, trustworthy relationship will sometimes leave us feeling let down.

Jesus understood that he had no place of ultimate belonging in this material time-bound physical realm. He warned his followers that

Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. (Matthew 8:20)

The anonymous gospel music writer understood Jesus’ point and enshrined it in that haunting and disturbing gospel tune, “Lonesome Valley”:

You gotta walk that lonesome valley,
and you gotta walk, walk it by yourself
Nobody else can walk it for you
You gotta walk, walk it by yourself.

Jesus walked this lonesome valley
and he had to walk it by Himself
Nobody else could walk it for Him,
He had to walk, walk it by Himself.

There was no earthly human comfort for Jesus. There is no ultimately secure comfort in the uncertain fragile reality of human relationships for any person.

In the most startling and offensive manner imaginable, Jesus shattered any ultimate dependence on human connection when he said,

Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.(Luke 14:26)

Jesus sought to cut away any worldly attachment to even the most intimate relationship in which we might be tempted to place our trust and confidence.

If we seek in relationship with any other person or group of people a lasting sense of well-being, we are setting ourselves up for a world of hurt. When we look to another person or group of people to be a safe place of comfort and security we create an expectation and burden no human community is equipped to bear.

The inevitable failures of connection in human relationship are not intended to bring us to despair. The small or great grain of loneliness that haunts even the most intimate relationship is not intended to bring us to cause us to give up on human relationships. The inadequacy of human relationship is intended to open us to a deeper and more sustaining reality at the heart of our being.

The “strong warm sense of belonging” does exist, but it exists within the depths of the human heart, not in any external relationship. The challenge of life is to find within myself the answer to that deep longing that no person or thing can ever satisfy.

One of the fundamental skills of the spiritual life is the ability to hold two apparently opposite truths together at the same time. It is true I am ultimately completely alone. It is also true that I am accompanied through my entire life by a deep love that never forsakes me and will never let me down. Only when I can hold these two truths together will I be truly free to enter fully into the risky uncertain business of human relationship.

Pete Seeger was a man who seemed able to embrace both the loneliness of human existence with the steady reliable force of life that never let him down. He powerfully demonstrates this ability in his stirring rendition of “Lonesome Valley”.

 

 

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