I pulled up to a local Starbucks just in time to see my friend enter the door. I scanned the parking lot and to my left saw the vehicle of the other person who planned to join us. We had all arrived. Early. Apparently each of us was excited to gather, to spend some time catching up on the various events we had all experienced since the last time we met, too many months before.
Having our coffees ordered and finding just the perfect corner in which to settle in, our conversation took off quickly, ebbing only momentarily to decide how to parcel out the banana bread.
As each one of us took our turn to share, I was reminded of the power of friendships. You know, the kind of relationship where values and faith perspectives are voiced without concern for being misunderstood; where trust is strong and a deep sense of connection is even stronger.
Despite the several months that had passed since the last time we had gathered it was if we didn’t skip a beat. Heck, we didn’t even think to mention the weather!
While listening to each other I thought, too, how glad I am for the holy presence of female friendship and for the sense of renewal it brings me, when I stop long enough to make room for these life-vivifying conversations, where heart touches heart and true connection is established.
On days when I’m feeling especially hopeful about the church, I imagine this kind of inspirational friendship is what the early followers of The Way experienced. They had shared so much together. They had challenged political and social forces; their leader had been killed by such forces; and yet, they had bonded in the process catching the vision Jesus offered.
But as the church gained power (deciding only certain people should teach and determining some documents would gain status over others) and as it became a supporter of empire cuddling up to state power the radical mission of Jesus somehow became more distant and dim. Finances, congregational size, building campaigns all occupy the center now. Programs and committees; mission statements and worship styles command time and energy. And, to stem the loss of attendance churches rush to entertain, knowing they must offer something better than a cup of coffee and the local newspaper or perhaps the latest NFL matchup.
And yet, how many people find church, if they go, boring, uneventful, frustrating, or just so out of touch it hardly seems worth the effort?
In contrast to my usual post Sunday-service lament that I’ve wasted a perfectly good morning, as I drove home from Starbucks, the sun having set and the traffic unusually light, I realized my profound sense of gratefulness. While my two friends and I had somehow managed to occupy three full hours on a late afternoon, this time was well spent; I could not imagine using my time any better way. Indeed, my spirit felt full because I had been nourished, not by coffee or banana bread but by Spirit.
These two friends shared with me their wisdom and laughter, their encouragement and sorrow. In hearing about Ruthie we celebrated her tenacity and gregariousness. We learned about her honesty and determination to ensure her husband would be encircled by loving family once she was gone. Without knowing Ruthie ourselves we nevertheless honored her living even as we grieved her dying. In listening to family rituals of gathering we celebrated intentional grand-parenting and healthy family relationships. Too, we laughed at our quirks and our limitations, knowing all of this is part of the journey.
This recent coffee date, reminds me of my need for soul sisters who convey for me without fail the presence of God: not only Ann and Marty but Melanie and Kathy, Jane and Polly, Shannon, Karen,Judy and Staci, women of the EEWC, and the numerous women who have touched me deeply (including our readers), enabling me to experience God in friendship.
Is it any wonder why I am surprised when I look over the centuries of theology designed to minimize the presence of women in our pulpits and our practice that I find the Spirit of God does not meet me there?
As I reflect on these two differing experiences—traditional church expectations that leave me wanting something else and time spent with wise women (and, these usually involve food or coffee, so this may say something about me, I’m not sure)—I think if there is to be any future for the church, it will reside in communities constructed with an entirely different ethic, one where women are not marginalized even in subtle ways such as seldom present in liturgy, in hymnody, in worship lyrics, as preachers speaking from pulpits.
I imagine such a drastic change in the church will not happen anytime soon. But I can celebrate the power and inspiration of female friends. And, I can be grateful for the way women encourage me to do more, to be more, to trust myself more.
So, thanks to all you women who have touched my—rather, our, for, indeed, many of our readers are women and you all inspire Melanie and I to keep writing—lives so profoundly.