It was a week ago last night that I shared a surprisingly meaningful evening gathered with new friends and newer friends around a glowing fire pit in the evergreen forest of Bainbridge Island, Washington.
There were in fact many moments on this trip when I knew I had to take step back mentally and take in as best as I could where I was, what I was doing, and who I was with.
And on this occasion, I let my head fall back on my Adirondack chair and gazed up through the cool air through the small opening in the pointy tree tops through which stars shone and the blood moon would eventually make its way, and did my best to etch the scene into my memory.
A new friend of mine had brought his friends together to celebrate his new season of ministry as a rector on the Island, and on this particular night the dinner plans were an invitation to bring meat and wine to share.
I brought a fat salmon steak, someone brought fresh shrimp, someone else brought chicken, and someone else brought steak. As we laughed and filled glasses, we watched the hot coals do the cooking, passed around the options, and had our fill.
And then, “Where are you most alive?”
Our priest friend not only has a gift for bringing people together, but also taking advantage of that togetherness. He asked us to ponder this question, and a few of us shared out loud–but all of us shared each other’s listening and hearing and considering.
The words that were then released and received around the fire were just about as nourishing–if not more so–than the meal we had prepared and enjoyed together.
For dessert, a banana cream pie that someone had contributed was brought out. Our gracious host heeded the voice of the spirit (and/or actually just didn’t want to do any more dishes) and just brought out spoons for everyone. The pie made its way around the circle, becoming a spoonful smaller every time it passed hands.
When it came to me, I realized that at least the crust would contain gluten, and possibly the filling as well. For someone who breaks out from consuming gluten, this could be an unfriendly pie.
But then it dawned on me: I could no more turn down a bite of this pie than I could turn down bread and wine at communion because I just don’t fancy them, or something.
I held up the pie, and I pointed out to the group that it was communion.
Not much explanation was necessary. I took a spoonful (trying my best to leave the crust for someone else) and passed it on.
Speaking for myself, my presence at this celebration and my sharing in this meal was one more surprising and amazing outpouring of the most basic form of God’s grace that I have experienced in power over the past few months. And that is, simply being given people.
The question of God’s action in regards to people which leads them to their destinies and reveals their unique purposes is known as the theological topic of election.
To be chosen or to be the elect of God has so often been thought of as primarily having to do with me and my status over against someone else’s. I am chosen (for salvation or heaven or something), and someone else is not.
Election properly understood, however, is God choosing a person or mainly a people to work in, in order to work through for the sake of others.
However it happened, and for whatever reason, these people I have been given were chosen for me. Perhaps I was chosen for them, too, but that’s not as important to me as much as it is important for me to realize that they were not a people of my own choosing.
Leave it to me who I’m going to share meals and time and talks with and I will probably come up with people mainly my age, from my part of the world, who are of similar backgrounds and who are on journeys that look a lot like mine.
Thanks be to God, then, that grace is surprising, that people are chosen for us, and that genuine, God-blessed human community can be so powerful that eucharistic pies can pop up out of nowhere.
Update, 9/28/16: One year later after this magical time, and there is a larger context that I can now openly share that makes more apparent why this first trip to Washington was such a special time for me: Being Seen.