I think I am an institutional person. By that I mean that I find a sense of place, of belonging, of stability and identity through being part of something larger, much larger, than myself. I am an introvert, but my way of being leads me to a life lived in institutions and not as a hermit. The bigger and the more connected, the better. I doubt I could be a congregationalist and I much prefer league bowling to bowling alone. Some now say they are spiritual, but not religious and so practice a kind of cafeteria-menu, individualist, ego-driven, something spiritual spirituality. Give me the ancient, institutional, and hierarchal church with such a cloud of witnesses and a communion of saints.
Paradoxically, it is by belonging that we do not get swallowed up and vanish into the whole but go beyond ourselves to become more than our individual selves. Membership, as they say, has its privileges and one is to belong and to grow. Jesus tells us that if we join ourselves with him, we will find life. If we choose to go beyond our individual, ego-driven, personal agendas and make his agenda our agenda, and to be part of the body of Christ, we will find greater life than we could ever otherwise know. The following story illustrates this principle of getting beyond ourselves to find greater life and invites us to think beyond our current thinking and to imagine a larger reality - to imagine how our fears and our experience of life’s bitterness, how our disagreements and our inability to practice reconciliation, how our lack of concern for and charity toward others, and so forth are all part of having too small a view of God’s purpose in our lives and too small a view of our place in God’s dream for God’s people.
An aging master grew tired of his apprentice complaining, and so, one morning, sent him for some salt. When the apprentice returned, the master instructed the unhappy young man to put a handful of salt in a glass of water and then to drink it. “How does it taste?” the master asked.
“Bitter” spit the apprentice.
The master chuckled and then asked the young man to take the same handful of salt and put it in the lake. The two walked in silence to the nearby lake, and once the apprentice swirled his handful of salt in the water, the old man said, “Now drink from the lake.”
As the water dripped down the young man’s chin, the master asked, “How does it taste?” “Fresh,” remarked the apprentice. “Do you taste the salt?” asked the master. “No,” said the young man.
At this, the master sat beside this serious young man who so reminded him of himself and took his hands, offering, “The pain of life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains the same, exactly the same. But the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things …. stop being a glass. Become a lake.”
Stay connected and go big. As Jesus promises “whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”