We are reflecting upon the circles in, or lacking in, our life. It seems evident that whenever a person senses and follows the call of the divine in their life, they are drawn together with others who affirm, resonate, encourage, and challenge our life. We see this in the life of Jesus, we see this in the life of the disciples, of Paul, of the saints, of the church. People called and drawn together for the sake of mutual purpose, work, and love. Simply put, the journey in God is always done in community, in circles.
Jack Mapes was a man who lived his life amidst circles. He told me this was not the case before he became spiritually renewed. But in 1977, Jack and Hazel attended the faith alive weekend here at St. Andrew, and Jack had an experience like Peter did in the Gospel this morning. Jesus got in Jack’s boat (though in Jack’s case, perhaps Jesus got into Jack’s dentist chair) and Jack told Jesus, “Lord, you can’t sit in my chair, I have too many other patients to deal with”. Jesus said, “don’t be so anxious, Jack, follow me and you will be catching people”.
After that weekend in 1977, Jack and Hazel opened their home and invited any and all who wished to share circle with them. That circle remained for over 40 years. That was not the only circle Jack would make. He met in a men’s prayer breakfast for decades. He would gather with others to intercede on behalf of the church in the chapel. He and Hazel maintained the circle of fellowship here at St. Andrew by being present every Sunday for over 50 years. When you live your life in a circle, your life is shared. Your life is known, it is loved, it is needed, it is supported.
In 1978, I experienced a similar awakening as Jack did a year earlier. Jesus got in my boat. Unlike Peter’s and Jack’s, my boat was just bobbing in the water, not really going anywhere. But Jesus said the same thing he said to Peter and Jack, “Don’t be afraid, Richard, follow me and you will be catching people”. I don’t really like that phrase “catching people”, but as I have watched it lived out in my own life, and in the lives of people like Jack Mapes, or Liz Karavitis, or Doug and Vicki Miller, or in Rick Alexander’s life, and in Annie Lightsey’s life, and in Chuck and Mel Lewis’, I think what it means is we cease living our lives simply for ourselves, with ourselves and by ourselves, and we let our life become a circle. Your heart opens, your mind believes, your home welcomes, your arms offer a wide embrace. People come into your life and your life becomes a place that others sense acceptance, affirmation, love, encouragement, partnership, support, inspiration, joy. Prayers, once religious requests, take on the spirit of bringing persons into the realm of grace and wisdom and blessing and family.
I watch the choir come together year after year after year. They love to sing and bring the music that Rick and Danny lead them in. But, what is really keeping them together? I think it is because they are a family, a circle together. They experience friendship, encouragement, help in times of need, and joy of being together. Rick doesn’t simply lead them in the music, he leads them in a circle. In fact, ever since I arrived at St. Andrew, only a few months after Rick Alexander had been called to St.Andrew, I believed that Jesus had jumped in Rick’s boat. Like Peter did, I have watched Rick shy away from being the person Jesus saw Rick to be. “ Jesus, what are you doing in my boat”, Rick would say, “I am Gay.” But Jesus said the same thing he said to Peter, and to Jack, and to me… “Do not be afraid, Rick, Follow me and you will catch people”. Rick and Allen live their life in a circle, in community, in mutual love and care with persons who have shared their life for years. The choir is not simply a Sunday morning and Thursday rehearsal experience. It is a sacred and loving circle they share amongst themselves and welcome others to share it.
I missed the Pilgrim’s experience this year. Since 2005, at least for me, it became a cyclical community that a number of us would share year after year. Every year, along with so many others here in the parish we would gather on Tuesdays for a shared meal, reflection of the seasons of the church, the scriptures, the liturgy, Benedictine spirituality. It was a circle that moved with the seasons, shared intensely by a few of us, shared in some degree or another by the whole parish. The Pilgrims circle moved in the Benedictine cycle, the Gospel story, the cosmic circle of coming in for renewal and going out for meaningful work. We would gather together to walk through the life of Jesus from advent to Easter and we would disperse to be sent out into the world filled by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
This year was a year for stepping back to review and reimagine what we offer for initiation and annual spiritual formation in and through the parish. I am extending a call out to all who wish to help restructure and organize our cathecumenal and spiritual formation pilgrimage at St. Andrew.
I think sharing life in a circle is how people catch people. I don’t think evangelism and conversion is what Jesus meant by catching people. Annie likes to say we collect people. We are drawn into relationship and care. Circles emerge and we find our lives receiving others. If your life is open you will draw others into circles of care and companionship. This is what it means to catch people. To walk with people, laugh with people, cry with, pray with, suffer with people, rejoice with, live with, and love people.
When Jesus gets in your boat and tells you “follow me, from now on you will catch people”, say yes, and watch your life become a circle. A circle of mutual care, accountability, beloved community: loving one another and the world we all share.