Today's photo was taken in Rome last month. Those are the "Spanish Steps" behind me.
Have you ever completed one of those “Real Age” tests on the Internet? One key question has to do with friendship. A solid circle of social relationships correlates highly with physical health, mental health, more complete recovery when we are sick, and actual life expectancy.
Health, and I'm widening this net to include spiritual health, requires more than mere acquaintances, but a network of people who know us intimately and love us regardless.
If you think I'm going to say “This is why it's important to be involved in church”, then that's only scratching the surface. Many people “go to church” without entering into the kind of authentic, nurturing, healing, encouraging relationships that are a prerequisite - in my understanding - of experiencing “Life to the full” in the way that Jesus imagined when he coined the phrase.
I appreciate the way Eugene Peterson translated Christ’s words in John 10:7-10: “I'll be explicit, then. I am the Gate for the sheep. All those others are up to no good—sheep stealers, every one of them. But the sheep didn't listen to them. I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for—will freely go in and out, and find pasture. A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”
My Sunday-evening group is a great example of “more and better life”. This weekend we met after a six-week hiatus for vacations; 15 friends gathering to enjoy a pot-luck meal and share our lives.
We munched hors d'oeuvre, catching up on the travel and adventure. Then we settled in to conversations around three tables, ranging from the exploits of our young-adult children to lost jobs and health issues and what's new in our personal journeys of faith.
Eventually, a couple of hours into the evening, we gathered in a wide circle. There we shared the core of our joys and concerns; the elements of experience that lay close to where our hearts intersect with the divine. Such conversation is in itself a kind of prayer and is only engaged in an atmosphere of complete trust and non-judgmental love. Tears and uproarious laughter often occupy the same space, because our hearts are worn on our sleeves and we’re all - simultaneously - both vulnerable and strong.
We concluded, as is our tradition, by standing, holding hands, and praying around the circle.
Powerful is a word I use with care. But powerful is the correct term to describe my Sunday-evening group. I'm not sure what my score would be if I took another “Real Age” test today. But I do know that my friends help to keep me healthy in all the ways that count.
Love and blessings - DEREK
PS. In my new book, The Unmaking of a Part-Time Christian, chapter three - "Christianity is a team sport" - deals with some of the same elements I discussed in today's post.