One of my favorite TV shows is Joan of Arcadia.
I became hooked on the show and realized its profundity when I was part of a canonical novitiate community five years ago. We watched the entire series from start to finish together. I remember how we would frequently be impressed with how the themes and lessons of the shows would reinforce what we were learning about God’s loving, relational ways in the classroom, ministry and communal living.
Now I continue to learn over-and-over again how the point of all this Gospel living is not piety, nor service, nor any great accomplishment. Rather, relationship is the core of this messy Jesus business. Yup, building God’s kingdom requires a lot while we increase and deepen our relational connections.
We are made to be together, grow closer to God and unite in love. In fact, the Holy Trinity models for us how to be in a constant, selfless, flowing, creative communion. In our community, we give and receive, we share, we listen, we help, heal, teach- just like God does.
The thing is, it takes a lot of work to build up relationships that are good and strong. We must be vulnerable, open, honest, trusting and compassionate. If I don’t take the risk of being genuine and admitting my inadequacies with my students, could I ever expect them to be real with me? If I don’t reveal my weakness to my superiors, can I really count on them to support me when I fall and fail? Can I expect others to listen lovingly to me if I don’t take the time to lovingly listen to them? There’s a lot of give and take; it’s rocky and unstable. Yet the hard work creates a rock solid foundation that can survive any tumultuous crisis, misunderstanding or mistake. I count on my relationships with people being rocky.
Truly, my worse sins are those that rock the relationships that I hold most dear. I can tear myself apart with sorrow that I may have hurt my path to union with God or my connectedness to other people. Sin is, in fact, any thing that hurts or destroys one’s relationship with God, others and oneself. I am glad God heals, forgives and mends my mistakes!
Ah yes, the great God relationship! Back when I was a novice, my life was focused on the hard work of building a more solid foundation of prayer and contemplation in my relationship with God. Amazingly, I began to realize that my conversations with God were beginning to be influenced by how Joan related to God in the Joan of Arcadia series that my community was watching together. I became more genuine and real. I went through all my moods with God’s steadiness serving as my rock. I’d get ecstatic; I’d argue; I’d pout; I’d complain; I’d say no and then yes. I never held back what I was thinking and feeling in my getting to know God better. And, I kept on listening and loving without fear of how it might change me. I realized my realness was a gift that only I could give God and I became more happy to give it, because well, God rocks, right?!
Lately though, my relationships have magnified the meaning of rocks. In fact, I am in awe of how rocks, when thrown into water, create ripples.
This contemplation is also influenced by the Joan of Arcadia series! I keep thinking about this segment from when Joan’s boyfriend, Adam, hears the suicide note his mother read aloud:
Helen Girardi: [reading Adam’s mom’s suicide note] “Dearest boy, my Adam. I dreamed a dream, you and I facing each other in a tiny yellow boat on green water under a blue sky. Me and my son and a yellow boat. And we laugh, and the boat rocks and the ripples spread from the boat to pond to sea to sky and nothing can stop them, and nothing ever will. When you think of me, Adam, know that in a world of pain, you were, and always will be my joy. Love, Mom.” -From “Joan of Arcadia: Jump (#1.12)” (2004)
As I love, minister, and relate to many, I continue to be astounded with how God’s graces send ripples of love and joy throughout all the webs of my relationships. It’s like networks, I suppose, but that just seems like too much of an institutional or corporate word for the messy, rocky, wavy way of the Gospel.
It’s true, though, one little loving touch on the web of relationships can send ripples of goodness all over.
One of the greatest ways I have witnessed the ways that relational love can ripple is by what I have witnessed happen to Tubman House in the past six weeks. Praise God! Many, many people and groups of people who I know have responded generously to my plea to help save Tubman House. I have been surprised with how my Truth-telling has multiplied blessings and miracles. I have been impressed with how people I barely know (and others I only know by the 2nd or 3rd degree!) have given their time, talent and resources all to help keep the non-profit going.
Wow, there’s great beauty in the ripples of our love. Often it’s a beauty we never get to see. See it or not, we can have joy and then send more ripples of goodness moving!