Notes of Belonging.
A Reflection with Three Stories, A Quote and A Song.
One extraordinary time, I felt the strangeness of an unfamiliar terrain. A strange new pressure of wet pebbles and the tickle of moist sand pushing itself between toes that until then had walked only in dry, dusty earth. As I pushed my feet into that new gritty dampness, the sensation grew upwards and soaked my body in its rough, but velvety, texture. The rubbing of those grains of sand made dry, almost-humming noises that were strange in my ears. I hear that uneasy teeming still, and how its noise became grinding reverberations.
I was a child and I’d travelled a long way from my home. I was visiting the ocean. They said: go walk on the beach, go swim in the ocean.
and the sand I found there was such a foreign thing. It wasn’t anything like the hot dust and gravel of my place. I’d felt something like it occasionally in the aftermath of floods, when wild water rushed to carry trees over boulders, and animals got caught in barbed wire. When the job of water became a cleansing of Country, when dust became mud that rotted buried gum leaves and hid the gravel, just for a moment, until tiny green leaves sprouted new everywhere. But ocean sand was different. Where was the bindi-eye that was always worrying my feet? The sand on that beach created a million minuscule pressure points under my soles. It tried to swallow my feet and the salt water rushed to carry off small shells and seaweed that caught in my toes. For me, then, sand and shells and seaweed remained just what they were. I struggled to listen or think or feel or see or believe their indecipherable story.
There was no story talking to my bones, into my soul.
These notes are taken from the First Nations’ author Debra Dank’s incredible book We Come with This Place (pp. 15-16). It is a privilege to read this work, as it gives such a valuable insight to Debra’s culture, faith and way of seeing the world.
The quote reminds us that when we have a strong sense of home, as Debra describes we also know when we are out of place.
And when we are away from home and connection with others, we will do almost anything to find our way back and to re-discover a sense of community.
This is what we know from Mark’s account in chapter 5 of someone who is a long way away from her community:
Jesus is approached by Jairus.
His culture is one of honour, dignity. It is strange for Jairus to fall on his feet before Jesus, but it indicates how desperate he is for his daughter to be healed.
She is dying.
Jesus and Jairus rush away to his house. Crowds are all around Jesus.
In their midst . . .
Is a woman with bleeding for 12 years.
In that crowd- she is totally out of place like Debra Dank describing her experience of the ocean.
The Old Testament is clear that this woman should not have been anywhere near Jesus or that crowd:
Leviticus 15: Whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. Everything upon which she lies during her impurity shall be unclean; everything also upon which she sits shall be unclean. Whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until the evening. Whoever touches anything upon which she sits shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until the evening.
These verses mean this lady would have been desperate to be healed.
We read in Mark 5: “She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.”
She performs a secretive, risky action.
She breaks the law and mingles with the crowd.
In a miraculous moment: She is healed. She is back with her community, back at home.
All is well . . .
Except . . .
He stops . . .
I imagine the gaze of Jesus in that moment was like a lighthouse beacon.
We read: Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my cloak?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’ ” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.
Now . . . the only way forward was to tell the truth and see what would happen.
And hope that vulnerability might be the path towards belonging again and being part of her community once more.
There’s a song I listen to a lot by a group called The Belle Brigade called Losers, and this is part of what it says:
There will always be someone better than you Even if you're the best So let's stop the competition now Or we will both be losers
And I'm ashamed I ever tried to be higher than the rest But brother I am not alone We've all tried to be on top of the world somehow 'Cause we have all been losers
There will always be someone worse than you Sister don't let it get to your head 'Cause you won't be on top of the world so long In constant competition
This ain't about no one in particular But I could list a few I'm removing myself from the queue
Don't care about being a winner
Real, genuine human connection comes, when like the woman with Jesus, we drop the pretence and stop trying to better than someone else.
It’s about being real. It’s about stepping forward and owning who we are.
Back to Story Two.
As Mark continues his narrative this is what happens next:
The moment of truth arrives.
Everyone would have been leaning forward . . .
He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
The thing that I love most about Jesus here is that he takes the time to notice.
He shows what the word home means in a spiritual sense.
· Miroslav Volf: “A home is less like a harbour that shelters a ship from the stormy open sea and more like a birds nest on the shady branch of a fruitful tree that houses many other nests and is itself set in a meadow filled with abundant food.”
In those days there were big differences between men and women in terms of who could go where in temples and synagogues and who could do what. But not in the eyes of Jesus! He sees us all the same and wants to bring us all into community.
We all belong with Jesus.
With that single word, Daughter, Jesus brings her home. Because home is about belonging and belonging is about our relationships with each other.
A year or two back, the journalist Trent Dalton decided to gather the stories of how people describe love in their lives.
One of the couples he met was Ben and Sarah.
“Ben works at sea on large commercial vessels. Sarah runs a jewlery and clothing shop at the Fremantle Markets.
Ben tells a story about what it feels like to leave Sarah for long periods when he travels for work on the long journey cargo ships.
The days pass and Ben witnesses enough sunrises on his own on the deck of a cargo ship that, one morning, without fail, he eventually sees a thin horizon of land again and knows he’s almost home. And every coastal bird he sees in the sky flies in the direction of Sarah. And all that grass and dirt on the horizon is Sarah.
Because home is Sarah.
And Sarah is home.”
(Trent Dalton, Love Stories)
Ultimately, home is about BELONGING, it’s about genuine human connection and honesty.
Jesus stops on his vital trip to Jairus’ house because this matters to him. It matters to welcome people into the Kingdom of God, it matters to bring them home.
That’s why he uses the word Daughter, basically he is saying welcome back to the community.
And our role as the church is to be the body of Christ, to continue the work of Jesus, through the power and love of the Holy Spirit. To be an inclusive home, a place of genuine belonging and connection.
How might we live this out as a church? How might this place continue to be a place where people belong?
It’s hard to define belonging, but there are a few aspects to it:
A place we belong is somewhere we feel accepted just as we are. There’s no need to be someone different, we can truly be ourselves.
Humour and food both play an important role in creating connections.
There is natural diversity within the community. Our relationships can withstand and enjoy differences.
There’s an openness to try new things and grace is shown when those new things don’t quite go to plan. There’s a willingness to learn from mistakes and start over again.
We are patient with one another and give situations time to change.
There is a focus to achieve something greater than who we are individually.
Experiences, such as celebration and grief, are gone through together.
People are not scared to show their vulnerable side.
There’s an openness to see that we don’t have all the answers and to learn from each other in a way that us genuine.
When we leave after meeting together, we feel connected to something greater than ourselves.
Where the communion table, and the story and reality it portrays live in the centre of who we are.