Lebanon: Final Trip Blog - "With"
by Marilyn Borst, for the team
“Assume selfie position!” became my good-natured “order” to my team when we had yet-another-opportunity (and there were hundreds of them!) to freeze a moment in time and place with one or more of our Syrian and Lebanese sisters. Our ever-present cell phones were a gift, affording us the blessing of taking back home a memory of these relationships, distilled in the long days spent together at the women’s conference. For long after we would be absent from one another, these images can recall our togetherness, our “with-ness.”
I am always moved by an essay written by Sara Miles, an Episcopal priest who found her faith at 46 when she wandered into an Episcopal Church and was transformed in the sharing of communion, and almost always use excerpts of it as a final devotional with my teams. Entitled “The Most Important Word in the Bible," Rev. Miles maintain that that most important word is with…
With. And so we open our worship saying: the Lord be with you. And so we proclaim that the Word made flesh came to dwell with us. And so we call his name Emmanuel, meaning: God with us. And so we bless our gatherings saying: the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all.
Notice: with, not for.
Because God is not actually for us: except in my crazy, private triumphalist fantasies in which God, who takes my side always, will magically appear and smash my enemies. God is not doing nice things for us, like strangers on mission trips who appear, hand out random goodies and go home. God is not for us in the sense that God is always going to be giving us what we want, protecting us from illness and harm, and making us rich.
God’s just with us. God sticks with us. Accompanies us. Delights in us, plays with us, suffers and abides with us. In trouble and in doubt, when everything goes perfectly and when things fall apart: God is with us.
John 1: 14 “nails” that essence of God’s “with-ness”: The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” And you just gotta love Eugene Peterson’s earthy translation of this in The Message: The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood…
In a small and humble way, The Outreach Foundation – whenever we take people out into the world to meet our partners in the Global Church – have tried to model that “with-ness.” We usually avoid “work trips” so that our time can be spent in “with-ness,” in encounters that allow us to know one another more deeply because we are not in a hurry to complete a project. On this trip, our “with-ness” matured over tiny cups of thick coffee and with pieces of bread dipped into bowls of hummus laced with local olive oil. It stumbled ahead despite the fractured English of our sisters and our almost-non-existent Arabic. It found joy in sitting side-by-side for solemn communion or while bouncing along on a bus for an exuberant outing. It was emoted in both tears and, more often, in laughter. It was deepened in the study of God’s word and purified in shared prayer and singing. We became “family-by-faith” through these days of “with-ness.”
I am grateful for my team – Julie Burgess, Evangeline Paschal and Sheryl Wood. I pray that God will call us all again to be on the road together and stand once more on that holy ground of Christian presence and witness in the Middle East, surrounded, encouraged and inspired by so many friends. And we WILL be ready to “assume selfie position” yet again…
Associate Director for Partnership Development