01 May 2006

red thread

From John 10:11-18, “ . . . I know my own and my own know me . . .”

Although it seems a long time ago, it was just three years ago that my wife and I were in the process of our adoption of our daughter from China. She may not have quite been born yet. We did not know her name or anything about her, but we had begun to speak of her that way . . . as our daughter from China.

It certainly was a long and complicated process. And we experienced delays due to paperwork bottlenecks and waiting on this or that form to be completed so that it could all be gathered into our dossier and sent to China.

We emailed back and forth with many families who were in a similar position at the time. And when there were delays in the process for one reason or another, or complications for one reason or another there was a story that floats around about a “red thread”.

The story is actually about two lovers, not about adopted children. You see, these two lovers met when they were but small children and were then separated by land and distance . . . and as in many good romance stories, their families also made things complicated. The story says that from that moment of their meeting there was an invisible red thread that connected them, that would always connect them no matter what the distance, no matter how many trials they would suffer. This connection between these two existed as they grew into adults and as they met again . . . finding their way along that invisible red thread that connected them.

And love is a fragile thing, like a thread. Yet this thread in the legend would never break. It may twist and turn; it may become tangled; but it would not break. These two who loved each other so dearly would meet again.

Now this Chinese legend is important to these adoptive families, and to my wife and I, because it is a truth that there sometimes exists a deep connection between people. It is like that invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but will never break. It is a beautiful image of very deep knowing, of very deep loving.

In John 10, Jesus is describing himself as the good shepherd. It is an old image of God that goes back to the 23rd Psalm and to some of the writings of the prophets. It is an image of God knowing the children of Israel so intimately, knowing them so very well. It is an image of a God who knows the sheep and cares for them. And in John 10, Jesus says to you and to me, “I know you . . . and I want you to know me. I know the Father and the Father knows me.” We are all like sheep that know our shepherd and will follow. This type of knowing is not just knowing the name of someone, knowing what they do for a living, knowing their birthday. God knows us in such a very deep way . . . and loves us is such a very deep way. That knowing is like a red thread that connects us to God.

We cannot help but remember too that we are approaching what is a high holy day in some churches: Mother’s Day. It is a day that most of us remember our connections to our mother’s, for most of us that biological mother who at the beginning of our life we were quite literally connected through the umbilical cord as we received nourishment and life from this her.

That is a wonderful and profound connection that our country celebrates on Mother’s Day. And John 10 is also about the Christ who nurtures, who cares. The shepherd knows us and watches so that we do not go to far when we stray away towards danger. Our shepherd, the good shepherd, cares about us so much that he laid down his life for us, gave it willingly, not out of necessity.

There is one item that in some ways seems a necessity in our home: it is a large mauve bowl with an old rolling pin. Several years ago, my mother was cleaning out some things and offered these to me. They were owned by my grandmother, my father’s mother. They were used by her to make, bake, and serve good things. I remember my father and his brothers and sisters saying that right after the depression, they remember eating mostly biscuits and syrup. That was about all that they had. But it was their mother who knew that her children must eat, who served them up what she could. She gave them nourishment so that they might live.

Alice Walker, a writer from Eatonton, Georgia, writes about her mother’s blue bowl in a book called Anything We Love Can Be Saved. When she writes about that blue bowl, I don’t see a blue bowl. I see a mauve bowl and a rolling pin that sit on a shelf in our kitchen.

Walker writes about growing up poor and getting off of the school bus just hoping that no one could see the small shack that she and her siblings lived in through the wooded path. She writes about entering the house with the handmade quilts, the flowers that her mother had picked, paintings of fruit and flowers and a painting of Jesus on the wall. And in the center of the table in the crowded kitchen stood the big blue bowl, as Walker says, “full of whatever was the most tasty thing on earth.”

She writes, “There was my mother herself. Glowing. Her teeth sparkling. Her eyes twinkling. As if she lived in a castle and her favorite princes and princesses had just dropped by to visit. The blue bowl stood there, seemingly full forever, no matter how deeply . . . we dipped, as if it had no bottom. And she dipped up soup. Dipped up lima beans. Dipped up stew. Forked out potatoes. Spooned out rice and peas and corn. And in the light and warmth that was her, we dined.”

It is an image of the Lord’s Table, of our communion, of what Christ the Good Shepherd offers us.

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