It is an awesome thing to watch the women in my bible study group circle the wagons and move in to help one of our own.
There we were, slugging through Romans 8. Slugging, as in making our sluggish, slow, chapter-by-chapter, digression-by-digression way through the book. (After seven months we're on chapter eight.) We paused a while to consider the Holy Spirit's corner of the Trinity and to think, but not speak, of times when the Spirit has interceded for us with sighs too deep for words (v. 26). (Apparently it is hard to talk of those experiences--no words!) We went on to side-swipe predestination (v. 29-30). We scraped it a bit, but didn't stop to make the full accident report.
But something happened in the middle of all this amateur theologizing. I forget just when, and I don't remember why. But the woman who was speaking had to stop for a moment. Her eyes focused on the wall, the ceiling, as she tried to collect herself. And then she spoke of something that has been bothering her. Deeply. Persistently.
We all listen. We want to help. What does she need? What can we say? We talk of anger, of quirky revelations, of emotional burdens, and of how the dull tasks of daily life provide no significant distraction from the passions that eat away at us from within.
But most tellingly, we talk of sharing the burden. Not the actual anger, worry, hatred and frustration tied to this one story. But the fury and the guilt and the fear of being consumed by it all. Let us take that, we say, and carry it for you until time can heal the other stuff. Till you can feel like yourself again.
"Let us do that for you." It was a familiar phrase. It echoed this woman's own words of comfort to someone else in a similar situation, months ago.
Another of those circle-the-wagons moments: "I don't know what you all will think of me." We said, "Think of you? Oh please, let us think well of you."
"I feel so alone" was the cry in the grey days of mid-winter. "Why do you have to bear it alone?" was the reply. "Let us carry it for you."
And so it goes. We rally around. No one person--not the pastor leading the group, no single stand-out saint--takes the lead. We circle around, and we all bring something to the communal pot: beans, cabbage, seasonings, a spoon, a ladle, garnish. Each gift is offered hesitatingly. Will this make good soup? Is this the right time to add this new thought? A little salt? A little of something else? Is it soup yet? Substantial enough for a soul in need?
We take great care, careful in the way that women are--careful not to offend, not to be offensive. We stay circled until the trail is safe again, for all us.
Eventually, with just a few minutes left before it was time to go, we charged ahead to the end of Romans 8, at full-speed, though we will have to go back and retrace our steps when next we meet. At the finish line was this great crescendo of a promise, one of Paul's best moments:
"For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus."
With friends who pick up and carry our crosses for us, making themselves like Christ, even the nasty, brutish stuff inside us will not separate us from God's love.