Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Fragments: A Weekend of Eating and Remembering

A few days ago, I was sitting with a friend in a city centre park, talking deeply, and deeply enjoyably, about God, faith, and life. Not entirely surprising, except that this was not just any old city centre but the first, and in fact, only city I've ever lived in, and not just any old friend but one I met twenty-two years ago when I first arrived as an eighteen year old English Literature undergraduate, with whom I've remained firm friends since those dim and distant days, our lives spanning marriage and childbirth, career and calling, parenthood and heartbreak, and at least three continents. And not just that, but this wasn't just any old day, but the end of a very special weekend which had drawn together thirty or so members of the Christian Union which had been so formative and defining of and to me in my early adulthood.

We'd spent the weekend doing what we'd done most of our undergraduate time doing: eating, drinking (although, as my friend pointed out gleefully, we could now afford decent wine) and partying. We'd talked over nachos and pints, over college breakfasts and a generously provided barbecue, over Communion bread and wine, over a pub lunch that would have been beyond our financial grasp as we fondly reminisced about living off baked beans and TVP, over ill-assorted picnic snacks and coffee, over tea and Pimm's and Diet Coke and a kebab that never quite materialised.

As we talked, and ate and drank, memories inevitably surfaced. What was that person's surname? When did we go to that club? What was that pub called before it was renamed? Who went to that church? Who had a no-mance (a newly minted reunion neologism describing those intense, flirtatious, exclusive, Christian Union male-female relationships that stopped just short of actual boyfriend-girlfriend relationships) with whom? Oh yes, that was true, wasn't it? Oh YES! I hadn't thought of that in years! Blimey, yeah! Really? No, it wasn't quite like that...But that was great, wasn't it? Wasn't that person good in the way he handled that situation? Wasn't that some tough stuff that we dealt with back then?

People came to the weekend with memories ready to share; other memories emerged out of shared remembering; many of these memories were funny; some were insightful; some were profound; some seemed tangential; some were utterly surprising; some were discordantly disturbing; all were precious.

We went to the Cathedral for Sunday morning worship and heard a sermon on the feeding of the five thousand. Fragments, we heard, were gathered up by Jesus; were blessed, and offered up to God; each was of infinite value; none was wasted, for nothing that is offered up to God is wasted by Him. As I sat in the cathedral, another fragment of an eighteen-year-old-self memory returned to me, and was blessed anew.

Later on that day, as I stood in another friend's kitchen and reflected on the weekend, it struck me how apposite the story of the feeding of the five thousand had been to our weekend of remembering and eating and drinking together. We started off with not much, certainly not enough to feed a crowd; just a vague idea about checking back into our old colleges, and what was left over at the end was so much more than what we had at the beginning.

That, surely, is one of the many ways in which the ever-living Spirit of God works in us: we offer up ourselves, insufficient though we are, and we are gathered up, blessed by God, and nothing that we are, or have ever been, is wasted by God; such is the power of the blessing that there is more than enough to nourish all, and even more than that, to have more left over at the end than is offered at the beginning, before the fragmentation and the breaking and the risk of self-giving. The weekend, we agreed, had been all about gathering up fragments of faith, hope and love, of memory and gratitude and pondering. Each one blessed, each one precious. Each prayer, all worship, each act of faith, each movement of love, each expression of hope. None wasted, none squandered, even the disturbingly discordant. Each one multiplied beyond all mathematical expectations, even what looks like loss to the casual observer. That's how powerful the blessing is. And that's how blessed we are.