by Arthur Paul Patterson
THERE IS A mind-boggling connection between creation
and chaos. This unexpected synergy applies not only to creation’s
emergence from the primordial chaos but is mysteriously operational
when people’s spiritual foundations have crumbled. It is
revealing that the Genesis creation accounts were woven together,
as the poetry of the dispossessed, during a time of the exile
and crisis of faith. Disorientation in communities and in individuals
has a peculiar way of resulting in an inspired movement toward
creativity and re-orientation.
When we at Watershed were flailing around, wrestling God, shadowboxing
in the post ‘91 period, many of us felt on the verge of
spiritual and emotional destruction. We reached out and to our
surprise we discovered something that promised to bind us together
and provide a foundation. We were like those of whom the Psalmist
went down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the great waters;
they saw the deeds of the LORD,
his wondrous works in the deep.
For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their evil plight;
they reeled and staggered like drunken men
and were at their wits' end.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.
- Psalm 107:23-30
Covenant in community came forward as an anchor-like promise,
a possibility for genuine security in fellowship. We realized
that in order to survive spiritually, we needed to depend on our
union around a common faith. This was hardly a new idea for us.
We had often spoken of our need to stand-alone together but never
before were we required to place our faith in this notion like
we did in the dark winter of ‘91. Before this watershed,
we had a translative idea about the nature of covenant in community
but we did not have the transformative power to put our faith
into practice. We hadn’t grasped the nature of the spiritual
adhesive that would bind us together in community. Our experience
of fellowship at Cornerstone and our first chaotic years as Watershed
lacked a secure spiritual grounding.
mistook covenant for an act of the will where we would make promises
and keep them through single-minded resolve. We were inevitably
disappointed when we, and others in our group, didn’t or
couldn’t live up to these promises. This discouragement
led to the sad assumption that we were not a community, at least
not in our current state of immaturity. We were a group of individual
seekers attempting to find something to nourish us. It was a time
of questioning; the Indigo Girls’ song taunted us with the
words, “How long till our souls get it right?” Covenant
in community promised security but on what basis could we forge
a union that would enable us to become an authentic spiritual
Jürgen Moltmann’s essay, "In the Fellowship of
the Holy Spirit," helps us appreciate the dynamics of the
spiritual adhesive that can hold us together in fellowship. This
essay suggests a foundation for true individuality and strong
community. The basis of this life is not found in our determined
promises but in the Spirit of Life. The Spirit of Life is above
all a provider of fellowship between people and God and between
people and each other. She is a mediatrix, a go-between-Spirit,
committed to establishing free and faithful relationships in faith.
Through the Spirit, we're drawn into the eternal symbiosis
or "fellowship life" of the Father, the Son and the
Spirit and our limited human lives participate in the eternal
circular movement of the divine life. So in the fellowship of
the Holy Spirit with us all, we experience the nearness of the
divine life, and also experience our own mortal life as life that
is eternal (1997, 90-91).
Charles Williams used the term co-inherence to describe a mutual
interpenetration of personalities. In many of his novels and books
he emphasized how the ability to truly enter into another person’s
life is based on the principle of spiritual exchange found at
the heart of Christ’s atonement. With this notion we can
learn to, without fusion, identify and literally take on the pain
and joy of each other. Fellowship is a spiritual union of total
identification with another. The Spirit takes the pattern of Christ’s
life, the way he lived and died, and applies it to our unique
human situation. The life of Christ permeates our lives as we
enter this spiritual atmosphere and we find the same Christic
energies exchanged between us as individuals.
Williams’ ideas have always convinced me ever since I first
encountered them in his work on the way of images in Dante where
he declared that God is found in our experience of human relationships.
I have learned more about Christ and his love and forgiveness
of me by relating to Bev, Sean and Erik, and in our Watershed
community, than in any academic or church setting. This is the
work of the Spirit in my life, making what is Christ’s mine
and vice-versa. I have learned about love, forgiveness, patience,
long-suffering, kindness, truth telling, and reconciliation -
from relationships that have mediated God to me directly. This
is co-inherence, the union with one another we share because of
the Spirit of Life.