Faith Page, Central Oregonian, March 16, 2012
We are gathered around a big table and our Bibles and study books are out, ready to go to work. We start with a Bible reading and a meditation on the reading from a small book of devotions for every day. Then it’s time to gather in prayer for those in our hearts. Suddenly the room is alive with information. Most of the women gathered here are old friends. They have been gathering over long years and most of them have lived through the deaths of spouses, the births of grandchildren, the tragedies of untimely deaths and dramatic illnesses together. They have prayed for each other and each other’s dear ones and brought meals and whatever comforts were needed. I am the new addition to the group, and as we gather over prayer, the conversation always wanders into the backstory: whose son or daughter it was, who worked with whom, when that accident, tragedy, collapse was, who is suffering now, how to honor the experience rightly.
I learn every week about the depth of the experience of lives braided so closely together in a small place like Prineville. I am the city girl, so used to the isolation and anonymity that is possible in a metropolis where no one knows your name or your story. In this Bible study of women, I hear both the pragmatism required of all women who cope with life and death issues and the necessity of learning navigate the lack of privacy required of those who have no such anonymity. I not only learn the stories that color the picture of the people before me, I learn of the faith stories that shine like jewels through the times of darkness in their lives. It is good information for the city-girl pastor to have, both because it makes me appreciate the women who have welcomed me so graciously as their first woman pastor, but also because it inspires my own life of faith to hear about the small and large victories that lie at the heart of our community.
I was always impatient with my mother’s spirituality and that of her friends. I wanted to hang out with the people who were discussing theological issues, not with the ladies who were too often relegated to the kitchen. Now my mother is gone, and these women who have lived a life of faith and faithfulness are my guides to putting that theology I so longed for to work in the world. Every week they show me how the words on the pages of Scripture become the source of building relationships and conducting the details of a rich Christian life. There they find the strength to stand up to whatever the world throws at them and those they love. They find the compassion to walk with those who have been rejected and treated as worthless. Their practical understanding of how God is at work in life is a blessing for the theologian who wanted to argue about Biblical interpretation, and now wants to hear how the love of Jesus transforms hearts.
And so we gather on Wednesday mornings to study together. We take way too long assembling prayers because we have so much to tell each other about the specifics of the situation we pray for. It’s a way of lifting up those we love and commending them to God’s care. We dig deep into our experience as we read Scripture, letting the stories of Jesus and the stories of our ancestors in faith teach us to see more deeply into our own stories for the hope we need to keep at work being God’s people. And we laugh, the big bonus as we relax into loving to be together with Jesus in whose name we gather every week. I am pretty sure Jesus laughs with us too, as we recognize our foibles and fallibilities, putting his arms around us to reassure us that God’s grace has covered our sin, and that he loves as much as ever. And then we go home, having lifted each other up and shared the confidence that, as God’s dear ones, we are safe in God’s care until we gather again.