The Power of Belonging

by Stephen W. Smith

Last night I watched the Denver Broncos play football. It was a thrilling game but as the cameras panned the sold out stadium, what I saw was the power of belonging—most fans were wearing the orange and blue colors of the Broncos! Dressed alike there was solidarity in the cheering and victory.

But the night before last, I witnessed one of the most powerful sights of belonging that I have seen in years. A modern monastic order came together—men and women—married and single to welcome three new members into their community. I was invited to witness the event but my witnessing of what happened deeply moved me to tears, sober realizations and soulful longings.

Every human being longs to belong. This is why standing in a circle or sitting a table in a few days at Thanksgiving will be so good for our souls. There at the table, we will sit or stand in a circle; perhaps we will hold hands and bow our heads but one other, very important thing is happening. We are moving in that time from the “me” to the “we.” We are brought together to share together; to experience together; to taste together the goodness of our Thanksgiving meal.

This modern monastic order had worked with three individuals to teach them their ways, expectations and values. The three very ordinary, novitiates, who longed to belong stood ready to be accepted. One after one was called to the center where they stated their intent to belong to something greater than merely belonging to the me. They wanted to belong to the “we.” They desired community. They wanted to live out their lives with a few other like-minded men and women and experience church in their midst.

The drama increased for me as each novitiate was recognized, blessed and celebrated. A novitiate is anyone who is a beginner at something that wants to get better at something. Aren’t we really all novitiates in life? I know I am. Then, a beautiful yet simple cross was placed around their neck. It was the symbol that everyone in the room wore but me. I had no cross but I sure had the desire. Everyone moved to hug and embrace the new members of the “we”. They now belonged.

My desire was not so much to be given a cross as it was the amazing realization that I, too, wanted—no– needed to belong. I wanted to stand with a few people who wanted the same things I wanted; who would die for the same cause I would lay my life down for. We see such marvels at belonging in our military, sports, clubs and family events. My wish these days is for this power of belonging to draw the church into more of a “we” than just a gathering of “me’s.”

This Thanksgiving, we will perhaps sense this urge that swelled up within me. The power of belonging will rise up within us. Gather with what friends and family you may. Form the circle at the blessing or around the table. What will be more important than the feast before us, will be the feast of our lives—the power of belonging to one another! The power of “we.” For me, only one of my sons will travel 1,000 miles and leave the “me” to become the “we.” But though not all together, we will pause with a circle smaller than what I’d like and bow our heads to the One who lets us be both “me” and “we.”

Take a moment here and use the “reply” piece here to express your Thanksgiving for the people you belong to and then forward this to your “we.”

(This theme is explore more indepth in one of the Eight Ways in my new book, The Jesus Life: Eight Ways to Re-discover Authentic Christianity. But this blog is new and does not appear in the book’s content). Copyright: Stephen W. Smith, 2011. You have permission to forward, print and use.

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Holding the Rope that Ties Us Together

I’m up at our retreat, Potter’s Inn at Aspen Ridge. We are doing a soul care intensive, a five day private retreat, this week with a couple who told us today, “This is a last-ditch attempt to save our marriage.”  They are over in their cabin tonight. They are sitting with what happened in our first day together. I’m sitting here in my cabin wondering what tomorrow will bring.

This morning, I read words from Henri Nouwen which seemed appropriate. He said that sometimes we need to tie a rope around our ankles when we go into the black holes of other people’s desperation–and ask our community to hold the rope for us so that we, ourselves, don’t slip into the darkness we are trying to help people escape from.  It’s a beautiful image—thinking that some people would actually care enough to hold the rope tied to my own ankles so that we can do our work; fulfill our calling and help rescue souls in danger.

I’ll not spend much time wondering who in this world would care enough to hold my rope for me but I do know there are a few who truly do care. That assurance gives me the courage to keep trying to help people; keep trying to find the light for people to navigate their way out of the darkness.

I am reminded of a line in Mary Oliver’s poem—one of my favorite of hers when she simply says, “The heart has many dungeons. Bring the light. Bring the light.”

Each morning, we’ll do our soul work together–this couple and us.  Each morning, I’ll imagine this rope–this sense that we are not alone in doing this work.

A last ditch effort to save a marriage is a high calling–don’t you think? Much is at stake. Much!

Hold the rope, would you?  When you hold the rope, we are truly partnered together.

Stephen W. Smith