like precious oil poured on the head

Sartre famously wrote that “Hell is other people.” Hell can indeed feel like tiny, whiny people who Just. Want. To. Watch. A. SHOW.
We’ve never even SEEN a show. Not in FOREVER.
Can we watch a show?
What about now? Can we watch a show now?
Peg + CatJustin Time? Now? We’ve never even watched them in forever!
It’s kinda hard to disagree. (With Sartre, I mean. My kids’ grasp on forever is tenuous at best.) We can all be hell to be around, can’t we? We’re a hoggish bunch, prone to violent outbursts, icy snubs, and haughty insularity. We lie, exclude, and think the worst. We’re unfathomably selfish, but at least we’re better than them(Ugh!)
But then I read Psalm 133 where David makes the rather audacious claim that heaven is other people.
1 How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
2 It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
3 It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.
Community is where God ordains his blessing, “even life forevermore.” We are saved together for an eternity starting now. Salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The Kingdom of God is at hand, in our hands.
here the oil is an anointing oil, marking the person as a priest. Living together means seeing the oil flow over the head, down the face, through the beard, onto the shoulders of the other–and when I see that I know that my brother, my sister, is my priest. When we see the other as God’s anointed, our relationships are profoundly affected. (Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction)
We are each other’s priest: co-bearers of good news, deep burdens, and great joy. Evangelical Protestants are quick to claim that we require no mediator but Christ, but as Bonhoeffer reminds, the Christ in my heart is weaker than the Christ in my brother’s–or sister’s–word. When my eyes are weary and my heart is faint, I need you to kindle the flames of faith. At times, we’re all the paralyzed man on the mat in Luke 5: saved by the faith and faithfulness of our friends. We carry each other into the presence of God that we may be seen, known, and healed.
But what about the times when we can barely stand to look each other in the eye? When listening turns to mockery and blood boils hot? When we’re frustrated, furious, and exhausted, what hope have we for pleasant unity then?
The township put a gravel bike trail right through our yard this summer. I haven’t done much (okay, any) running since my 5K back in May, but I’ve been out there on my bike, stealing moments when the kids are at VBS or I’ve snagged a sitter from camp for an hour or two. (Glory.)
The trail weaves around the soccer fields, over a creek, past a cattle farm, and into town. It’s quiet enough to begin to hear myself think. To pray. And listen. Even the weeds and wildflowers whisper, and I remember the discipline of paying attention.
It’s quiet at home, too, before the kids wake, after goodnight kisses are given, and intermittently in-between, but I’m far less disciplined about cultivating solitude there. There’s work to do, sleep to be had, and tempting ways to avoid both in the light of screens.
We might practically judge the state of our psychological and emotional health by our practice of solitude. Our ability to care in a world of ongoing change grows when it is deeply rooted in a quiet, silent encounter with our faithful God. This allows us to move through our days without being terribly disturbed and distraught by the interruptions or disruptions. It also allows us to perform a diversity of concrete tasks without haste and distraction. In solitude we re-find our center and rediscover that our unity is continually strengthened and nurtured. (Henri Nouwen, Clowning in Rome)
If Nouwen is right – and I’m inclined to think he is – the elusive unity for which we long grows not in togetherness, sameness, or the absence of disagreement (or whining) but in the fertile soil of solitude. Unity is cultivated far from the din of the crowd.
If we base our life together on our physical proximity…life quickly starts fluctuating according to moods, personal attractiveness, and mutual compatibility, and thus becomes very demanding and tiring. Solitude, on the other hand, puts us in touch with a unity that precedes all unifying activities. In solitude we become aware that we were together before we came together and that life is not a creation of our will but rather an obedient response to the reality of our already being united. Whenever we enter into solitude, we witness to a love that transcends our interpersonal communications and proclaims that we love each other because we have been loved first (1 Jn. 4:19). Solitude keeps us in touch with the sustaining love from which we draw strength. (Nouwen, Clowning in Rome)
I took both kids out on the trail tonight for the first time together. It was ambitious, as they’re both two-wheel tenderfoots, but we’re hoping for family bike time on the boardwalk in a few weeks, so we’ve got to log the hours.
It was not, as one might imagine, a transcendent experience. One child fell off the path completely into a tangle of poison ivy, and the whine flight was not to be missed, but you know what? I didn’t lose my cool (much), and all in all, I’d put our little outing in the “win” column. They pedaled their faces off, ’til they’d earned tired like a badge. Although they took turns proclaiming they couldn’t do it and they weren’t strong, they did, and they are – even stronger than they know.
My little priests, anointed with bike grease and sweat, down the collars of their summer tees.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.

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