I just spent time at the home of a dear friend. She hosted a tea in honor of another of our friends who recently moved and will not be around as often. Something like 30 or 40 beautiful souls were gathered, most of who played a vital role in my life during one of our pastoral stints. They range in age from 60s to 90-something, cross an array of theological perspectives, and represent the whole gamut of personalities. They certainly disagree, and often, but they always choose to be together. Never have I known a group of people who also always accept me, never judging, ceaselessly encouraging – no matter what.
I needed that today. Don’t we always need that in our lives? It is self-evident we need people near who will encourage us. Still more important are the ones who have gone before me and can laugh at my discomfort with turning 50. Those who know that while it seems my professional life has ended, it is in fact, truly beginning – and means something. Those who can see from an already-lived space and see into me – as. I. am. – and, with a faith they allowed me to lead them in (what humility, what grace), speak back into me the truth that God is working, God is not done, God is faithful.
These women are individuals and a community that praise. They praise God always and they praise each other with equal fervor—is not that just praising God all over again? And with Adam Phillips, “ . . . imagine a world in which . . . we praise whatever we can.” Because, without praise there is only judgment. Judgment is shallow, it discourages, it injures, it cannot see possibility. “The judged self can only be judged but not known.” And that goes for the judgment of others, as well as self-judgment.
Judgment is an interpretation, and it is only one interpretation. Interpretation sets limits. And credence to a single interpretation leaves the object of interpretation perverted and monochromatic, and in the very least, grossly misunderstood. Phillips observes this even in our heroes, “Tragic heroes always underinterpret, are always emperors of one idea.” We are complex people, we image a God vaster than can be conceived—of course it would follow that each person has more facets to be discovered, known. And we change, and are formed by others we encounter and places we go, give form to people who change and reform . . . .
Eleanor Roosevelt said it beautifully: “when you adopt the standards and the values of someone else . . . you surrender your own integrity [and] become, to the extent of your own surrender, less of a human being.” When I accept the judgment, the interpretation that someone ascribes to be, I surrender to a lesser self, not the fullness of who I am.
Suddenly turning 50 doesn’t seem quite so bad. My time with these amazing people today reminds me what I have been missing. Namely, I need a community that comprises those older than me, those committed to me and to each other. I also need people who are younger on whom I may bestow the same graces and acceptance. Surely this is the Body of Christ. Truly this is the Kingdom of Heaven on earth!