We missed church today.
We missed the incense, the singing, the glorious praise of God. We missed meeting Christ on the altar. We missed our family of God, the Body of Christ.
Yet God was with us as we gathered with other family members to celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday. He blessed the day, blessed our gathering, and poured His grace into our time together.
We gathered in the afternoon between storms as multi-gray clouds moved across broad skies under Mount Diablo. We moved outside to take a family picture on the wet lawn, the green hills rolling behind us. We laughed as we arranged ourselves, cousins with mothers, sisters with aunts, my mother sitting between her two sisters on chairs in the center. It will be a picture to remember, a day to revisit. One day these children will explain to their children who we are, why we are there, why we were gathered under the mountain.
It is these moments of celebration, I thought, that pull our disparate family together from time to time, as though pulled by a magnet to a center where we all admit our connectedness.
Is the family disappearing, I wondered. Many write that it is, that the family and the Church, the two great pillars of our civilization, are cracked and falling, as though Samson stands ready to pull them down. Without these institutions the State must step in and rule more forcefully, must decree morality, must, in the end, become tyrannical in its power. The family and the Church for centuries have counterbalanced government and that balance is now threatened with the fragmentation of the family.
The cracks are apparent in the pillar of family, to be sure. With the acceptance of birth control, particularly the pill, marriage became divorced from procreation, so that children are no longer intrinsically tied to their biological parents. The effects of birth control were reinforced by fertility treatments and creation of children in laboratories. It is a short step from these immense social changes to easy divorce, multi marriages, same-sex parents, indeed to polygamy and to incest, although the latter are still taboo in our society, probably not for long. These are major cracks in the family, and when conservative folk decry gay marriage, it should be considered there are large issues here, issues affecting the foundations of our democratic culture.
So we gladly gathered together this cold day in January. We planned, cooked, decorated. Balloons bobbed to the ceilings, tied with crepe streamers and foil, and white roses bunched in tall vases alongside white tapers. I watched the children play inside and outside, the adults swirl in chattering groups, sharing their lives with one another, their mingling a kind of incense weaving through the rooms of my house. We nibbled on appetizers, sipped bubbly drinks, took our family photo, lunched from the buffet of chili and crab and salads and sandwiches. We set out the cake and sang Happy Birthday, my mother wondering what to wish for, having forgotten.
We gathered to testify to time, to family, to the miracle of creation, and God’s Spirit wove through us. Soon each of us will reach the end of our time-journey, at least on this earth, and others will gather and witness to these moments of passage. We shall journey on, to the light, to the source of all this mingling and incense, laughter and roses. We shall journey to Love itself, to God.