I belong to a book group at St. John’s – actually a fellowship of friends who gather in each others’ homes about once a month and discuss a book that we’ve all agreed to read. Last night was one of those nights … where we all lingered over glasses of wine, dessert, and coffee, discussing in this case the gnostic gospels and sharing our own experience of faith and the history of our tradition over time. I belong to a book group at St. John’s – actually a fellowship of friends who gather in each others’ homes about once a month and discuss a book that we’ve all agreed to read, and thus, all have done so in the time between meetings – more or less. Actually there are times when I feel that the book “assignment” is just an excuse to gather together and share our lives with one another!
So last night was one of those nights … where we all lingered over glasses of wine, dessert, and coffee, discussing in this case the gnostic gospels and sharing our own experience of faith and the history of our tradition over time – balancing community order with stable, orthodox boundaries, alongside the need for each of us to find our own experiential way into our own engagement with God’s Spirit in our lives.
Of course by evolutionary design, we are communal creatures ever since our primate ancestors crawled out of caves and began living in groups, cooperating with one another to maintain life, humming and singing to sooth ancient brains before language developed in our proto-species, and finally banding together in larger tribes as words began to replace hand signals and shouts – as our brains expanded to allow communication within wider tribal boundaries. We are social animals through and through.
Which brings me to Bruce Cockburn’s memoir titled “Rumours of Glory” – the book I’m currently reading in support of my own writing project, The Fiction of Our Lives. For decades Cockburn has been a Canadian singer and songwriter and a human rights activist whose protest songs reflect the political and social horrors he has witnessed in Guatemala and other places in Central America and farther abroad. Early on he also became known as a “Christian” songster because many of his lyrics reflect his own “conversion” to Christianity, and more broadly, spiritual and even mystical engagement with God. The chapter that I’m currently working on is concerned with the experience of God in our past and present lives and is titled “My Sweet Lord: God’s Lure and the Life Well Lived.” In doing background reading for that chapter, I’ve spent time reading about Cockburn’s colorful life as a Boomer living a life of protest.
At one point early on in his memoir, Cockburn reflects on his profound experience of Jesus’ presence during the wedding ceremony with his first wife. He says “when I held Kitty’s hand to place her ring, I became aware of a presence standing there with us – invisible to the eye but as solid and obvious as any of the people in the room. I felt bathed in the figure’s energy. I shivered and said to myself, ‘Well, I don’t know who or what this is, but we’re in a Christian church, so it’s got to be Jesus.’ Who else would it be? He spoke no words, but the presence was real, male, and loving. In giving and seeking love, we enter a temple of spirit that we can’t see but we can feel, that we can’t touch but that nurtures us and makes us whole. … But I don’t think it was about the building. It is the opening, the baring of souls to each other and therefore to the Divine, that allows these communications to occur.” (Pp. 115-116)
Cockburn closes that chapter from which the above quote was drawn with lines from a song he wrote in 1971 titled “He Came From The Mountain.” The refrain from that song’s lyrics was:
In his world, we wait
In his hands our fate
Keep on climbing
We shall see his gate
In good time
And so … together we climb in our communities where we gather, climbing toward God’s gate as we go. We are made for one another … as I believe we are made for God’s company. We are communal to our core.