“Family Camp Lite”

For the last twelve years, our family would be at La Casa de Maria for Family Retreat this week.  On a normal year, we’d be basking in the glow of family affirmations from Monday night and preparing ourselves to battle it out on opposing teams at pool games this afternoon, a favorite Tuesday tradition. But this year, after the devastating mudslides that hit Montecito on January 9, La Casa de Maria had to close its doors – for a while at least. Family Retreat was left homeless, but not hopeless. In late January, the team got together to grieve and then get to work. It was too late to relocate, but not too late to re-create our time together in what we called “Family Camp Lite.”

We stayed as close to La Casa as we could, taking over a dozen rooms at a local beachside motel and an entire second story deck with an ocean view. We gathered for music and prayers on the sand in the morning, shared several communal meals, celebrated mass on the beach and spent one morning working in the Shalom Garden at La Casa de Maria and touring the property. As we worked in the hot sun, we blessed our beloved spiritual home not only with our sweat, but also with our tears and songs and laughter. The devastation we saw there was both sobering and sanctifying. It is clear that Family Retreat will not be returning to the property any time soon, but equally clear that La Casa de Maria itself will continue its mission of being a holy place of healing and service for the world. We took a lot of pictures, but left some banners of hope in our wake.

One of the traditions the team felt strongly we wanted to continue even at “Family Camp Lite” was time for family affirmations and reconciliation. During a normal week, each of these rituals are given their own sacred time and space, but in our condensed schedule, we only had one chance on Saturday evening and they invited me to share a few words, which I’d like to share here with all of you.

 

Tonight we are combining two of our most cherished rituals from Family Retreat – affirmations and reconciliation. When we get started, each family will have to decide what they want to emphasize. Do your people need to hear, “I love you and here’s why,” or “I’m sorry and will you forgive me” more? Of course, both of those messages are deeply intertwined and deeply necessary, so maybe there will be time for both.

I want to start by reading just a few short lines of scripture. You just might be familiar with the passage from 1 Corinthians 13. (Sarcasm intended.)

 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

 Let me say those last lines again:

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

How many married couples here had these lines read at your wedding? (A few hands were raised) How many of you have heard these lines at almost every wedding you’ve attended? (Most hands went up) Do they feel trite and commonplace? Probably.

And yet, if we can get past our familiarity with the passage, I hope some tender part of your heart can still be touched by hearing it, is still open to the radical beauty of a Love like this, and still invested in living out this kind of Love whenever humanly possible.

In 1 John, there is a simple, but powerful statement: “God is Love” and “everyone who loves is born of God and knows God,” which means that everyone is born of God and at some point in their lives has known God, because we are all born knowing how to love. We are born knowing how to connect, how to make eye contact and seek comfort in a warm embrace, how to forgive and draw near again. I’m not saying every child in the world is created out of love, or is born in a loving home, but Love is in our DNA. In fact, Love is our Divine DNA. It is only through repeated rejection, difficulty, suffering, hardship (and a thousand other things that happen to us over the first decade, or two of our lives) that we forget how to Love and separate ourselves from God, separate ourselves from our internal awareness of our Divine birthright as daughters and sons of God, made of Love and made for Love.

I think that’s why Family Retreat has become so important to so many of us! We know and have experienced on a deep, deep level what happens when we give up a week of our lives, a week of vacation time, two weeks’ paycheck – all the things we sacrifice to be here – in order to participate in reclaiming and reframing our identity and our family’s identity in Love.

The other 51 weeks a year, though we may spend time with our Bibles, or go to church weekly, or even lead deeply spiritual lives, we are still immersed in a culture that values other things more – productivity, success, consumerism, critical thinking, busyness, sports, appearance, power, security.

It’s a relentless onslaught of not-love, a constant denial, or derailing of what matters most.

So we come here for a week, or a weekend like this one to reclaim the power of Love, to witness what Love can do in our own family and in the families that surround us, to be reminded of and to strengthen the Love that flows between each of us and our Source. God, our Creator, Jesus, our brother, and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, which simply a fancy word for our defender, or protector.

I want to return to that last line again:

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

One of my teachers, Cynthia Bourgeault, an Episcopal priest and author, takes this passage from Corinthians and offers a new way of looking at it in her book Love is Stronger than Death. It came across my desk just this past week, but I’ve thought a lot about it and how it might change everything we think we know about Love. When we gather with our families in a few minutes, perhaps we can think about how our family can Love like this.

Love bears all things.

For Love to bear something is not just to “grin and bear it,” to put up with something we dislike, or is causing us pain and suffering. It can mean that, but to “bear” also means to give birth to, like a child, or to make fruitful, like a vine, or a fruit tree. Love “bears,” or brings new life wherever it shows up. That’s how you know it is truly Love, not a facsimile. If it isn’t bringing, or sustaining new life, it’s not Love.

Love believes all things.

Paul isn’t talking about magical thinking, about believing in fairy tales, or romantic myths. While it might mean giving people the benefit of the doubt sometimes, Loving doesn’t mean letting people lie to, or manipulate you. But in almost every critical situation, we will have a choice between a response that leads to openness and continuing possibility and one that closes off possibility and leads to cynicism and despair. To believe when we are alive in the spirit of Love means that we try to stay open and imagine the highest, best possible outcome and then work toward making it happen.

Love hopes all things.

Hopecan be a response to a history of positive events. Good things have happened in the past, so we allow ourselves to hope that more good things are coming.  But there is also a deeper hope based in Love, a fountain in the center of our hearts that will not let us despair, at least not for long; it just keeps bubbling up. With Love, in Love, it never runs out. When we Love and are in touch with the source of all Love, hope is the natural outflowing.

Love endures all things.

To endure is to abide, to continue to stand, not rigid like a brick wall, but supple like a willow tree. Love like that allows us to sway in the gales and yet hold our ground: flexible, rooted, injured perhaps, but ready to rise again.

Love never fails.

We could read this to understand that Love never makes mistakes, or that if we do, we must not be loving enough. Or we might believe that if someone fails us, they must not actually Love us, but maybe that isn’t the whole picture. Crops can fail, and not yield a harvest, be destroyed by the weather, or by blight, or bugs.  But Love never fails like that. Love will always rise up; it will always produce a harvest. We might not know what seeds we have sown with our love but Loving will always produce an abundance of something this world needs, even if we don’t get to see the fruits of our labor.

As you gather here tonight and share your Love for one another, perhaps you can think about some of these things. How does your family’s Love bear fruit in this world? How has believing in each other allowed your family to heal? How has Love allowed you to hope, even when things seemed hopeless? What has your family endured, not easily, or without injury, but faithfully rooted in the Love you have for each other?

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Overall, “Family Camp Lite” came together even better than the team imagined it might. Families laughed and cried, prayed and played, talked and reconciled. We celebrated what had been and saw a glimpse of what still might be, both for La Casa de Maria and ourselves.

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