I mentioned on Sunday that I recently re-read Tim Winton’s autobiographical short story Twice on Sundays.
In addition to his wonderful references to “Jacob pulling a hamstring in his struggle with the angel” (last Sunday’s Bible reading) what also struck me was Winton’s observation that the intergenerational nature of church is countercultural.
“In a society where relationships between generations are increasingly rare,” he writes, it is remarkable that church facilitates relationships with people who are, “neither relative[s] nor paid supervisor[s]”.
Many of you would testify to the truth of this: that it was precious intergenerational relationships that had the biggest impact on your faith – and, if you have had children, on your children as well.
Winton tells a wonderful story about approaching an older man in his church, George Smith, when he was six years old, and asking him how big his soul might be.
“I don’t remember why, at that age, I required soul dimensions, all I know if that my need was urgent. Mr Smith took off his glasses and gave them a bit of a buff. Eventually he took my hand, closed it and pressed it against my chest. He told me he’d never actually seen a human soul but his best guess was that mine was about the size of my fist. I considered this sceptically; I may have been only six, but I wasn’t stupid. Then I thought about how sometimes my spirit ached like the aftermath of a sucker punch, burning right there where old George Smith had his hand and mine, like a thump in the chest whose afterglow left the feel and shape of a fist. And so his answer rang true.
In the years since, my satisfaction with it has only deepened. Not because it convinces me in the literal sense it once did, because there’s such humanity and imagination in the image. What moves me most is that he bothered to answer my question at all.”
What I said on Sunday is that I cannot – by convincing arguments or revelations – make faith real for the next generation – or for any generation! We all must wrestle with God for ourselves. But what I can do for the next generation, and others, is show them – live for them – a life of faithful wrestling, of continuing to ask questions, of praying without ceasing, of stepping out in faith, of being generous and sacrificial, of, from to time, having my heart broken, but holding onto God, holding onto God, not letting go of this God who also holds onto me.
And to do that I have to spend time with people from other generations! I must continue building inclusive caring relationships with people who are not relatives and for whom I am not a paid supervisor!
I was thinking about this this week, about the two small groups I am part of in our church, and rejoiced in the realisation that the age range in the Women’s Book Group and the Morning Prayer Group is from the 20’s to the 70’s! (And it could always extend further still!) It brings such a richness to our sharing, such a deepening to our understanding, such a broadening of our capacity to share God’s love.
Thinking about the legacy I want to leave at this church, I hope Canberra Baptist will always treasure being an intergenerational church and will press into this – so the next generation and the next and the next are fostered in faith; so our “sons and your daughters… prophesy, [our] young men and young women… see visions, [our] old men and old women… dream dreams…”
Tim Winton comments, at the end of that story about George Smith and the size of his soul, that if he was ever asked a similar question by a young child he hopes that he could, “Summon the kind of grace [George] found in the moment, so as to offer a child half the gravity and good faith he showed me.”
Let’s show interest in each other’s lives. Let’s take each other’s questions seriously and, in doing so, show each other grace. Let’s dream about the church that is to come together!
Grace and peace, Belinda