Ellen and I were “greeters” before the worship service at church a couple of weeks ago, which is always a great way of sharing the joy of being part of a worshipping community. Our pleasure was more than doubled, however, when we were joined by our friend Paula Hewitt, who decided that she too would welcome people as they entered the sanctuary.
What made Paula’s participation special is that she lives in Latvia, and was “present” on a laptop computer via a Skype connection. We positioned the laptop on a table near the door so she could see people as they entered, and she would then speak directly to them—to the startled amazement of at least a few.
I believe this experience is consistent with what Catholic author Henri Nouwen calls “lifting the cup”—the sharing of common life together, regardless of our physical location or circumstances. Paula was on staff at our church for many years before she left to become a missionary in a small town in the Baltics. She comes back to visit occasionally, and remains in regular contact with her many friends in Corvallis.
Lifting up the cup, Nouwen writes in his small book, “Can You Drink the Cup?” is an invitation to affirm and celebrate life together. As we lift the cup of life and look each other in the eye, we say, ”Let’s not be anxious or afraid. Let’s hold our cup together and greet each other. Let us not hesitate to acknowledge the reality of our lives and encourage each other to be grateful for the gifts we have received.”
By lifting a cup to life we affirm our life together and celebrate it as a gift from God. When each of us can hold firm our own cup, with its many sorrows and joys, claiming it as our unique life, then we can also lift it up for others to see and encourage them to lift up their lives as well. This lifting is a fearless gesture, proclaiming that we will support each other in our common journey. It is community-building.
I “lifted a cup” with a woman at church yesterday who at age 77 had recently returned from a cycling adventure with her husband. Denise and John completed a 4000-mile cross-country trip this fall that had been suddenly interrupted 10 years ago when she fell from her bike and was badly injured. It took courage for Denise to get back on a bike at all, much less to strap on heavily loaded panniers and to set off from a location close to where she fell. You have to celebrate such a fearless gesture.
Nothing is sweet or easy about community. If we dare, it’s where we make our joys and sorrows visible to others as a gesture of hope. In community we admit to our gains and losses, up and downs, in the knowledge that we don’t have to live them alone. We want to drink our cup together and celebrate the wounds of our individual lives. Not long after Denise was hospitalized in 2000 from her bike accident she had to endure the death of her son. We drank the cup of sorrow with her then. It was a heart-breaking time for her, and for those who know her. Because of her community, she didn't have to go through it alone.
To drink from our cups, and to drink them to the dregs, we need others who are willing to drink their cups with us. We need community in which a sharing of both sorrow and joy is present together. We have to be willing to let others know us if we want them to celebrate life with us. We have to be like Denise, and like Paula, and know that fear isolates and that sharing helps to make us whole.