Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Fellowship On The Road

an article written for the Bethany Prebyterian Church newsletter

Reflective silence weaved around the eleven people gathered in the cozy living room of Dan and Anne Baumgartner’s Whidbey Island cottage. Before each of us lay a printout of the last seven verses of Mark 10—the story of blind Bartimaeus. We read through the passage, marking moments of resonance and words or phrases that caught our attention. The story contains many layers of meaning, as we found a few moments later when we broke our silence to share our reflections with one another. Undoubtedly the most remarkable moment is the miraculous healing of Bartimaeus. But as I read, I found my attention drawn to an earlier moment—Jesus’ decision, rather than calling Bartimaeus over himself, to send some members from the crowd to do it for him.

Earlier in the story, members of the same crowd had rebuked the blind man for calling out to Jesus. Yet Christ gave them a chance to redeem their previous lack of compassion by becoming bearers of a gospel. They are appropriately transformed. “Cheer up!” they cry to Bartimaeus. “On your feet! He’s calling you!” In the same way, God gives each of us the opportunity to bear Christ’s message of grace and love to one another, and reveals himself to us through the people he places in our lives. This is the blessing of fellowship.

It was this blessing of fellowship that I was in the midst of enjoying on that day several weeks ago as I sat reading Bartimaeus’ story. It was Saturday morning, and the eleven of us were gathered for a retreat organized as part of Bethany’s College Age Fellowship. Characteristic of the Fellowship, the participants ranged in age and place in life from college freshmen to recent (and not quite so recent) graduates, to college-aged people currently involved in some other pursuit. There were roommates and close friends and even a pair of sisters, but most of us knew each other casually if at all—at least, when the weekend began.

We spent a large portion of the retreat simply getting to know one another. There were conversations of varying depth and length—some lasting until three in the morning! We enjoyed the beautiful surroundings with early-morning runs and one-on-one walks along the shore. An impressive mountain of board games—including such classics as Risk, Pictionary, Scrabble, True Colors, and Pass the Pigs—provided additional fun-filled opportunities for fellowship. On Saturday afternoon the intriguing outdoor game of Slingball awakened some friendly competition among our members. Throughout the weekend we prepared communal meals, sang songs of worship, and prayed together.

Over the course of the retreat, I felt that I came to know my fellow sojourners on the island far more deeply than it seems possible to have done in such a short time. I feel a connection to the people I met there that is significant and lasting. This was, to me, a sign of God’s presence with us, His hand guiding our fellowship. The retreat was a blessing in a number of ways—the beauty of the surroundings, the peace of an escape from the city and its routines. But for me, the greatest blessing came from the chance to come to more deeply know some of my fellow travelers along the road, and to experience God through their insights, their individualities, and their abiding fellowship.