My father, who passed away over five years ago, was as long as I can remember a collector of “old things.” Not so much antiques as mementos of the past: his past, growing up on a farm in Northern Maine during the thirties and forties. In his workshop and in his den, the walls and shelves were covered with old radios, farm tools, oil lamps and hunting rifles; snapshots of me as a kid hung up beside photographs of deer hunting trips taken when my grandfather was a young man – each one telling one kind of story or another. And then there was an old desk with drawers filled with old coins, pocket watches, jack-knives and almost everything else you could think of – nothing all that valuable, just things collected over the years that represent bits and pieces of memories long cherished.
These are still the places our whole family seems to gravitate when we’re in Maine – in fact, while visiting my mother this past week, I found myself back in that den, sitting in Dad’s old chair pouring through photo albums and scrapbooks that have accumulated there over the years; reminiscing about times long past and the people who were such a big part of our lives back then. It was another vivid and joyous reminder that I’m connected: connected to a family that extends beyond just my wife, the kids and me; even beyond all the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, some who have “gone on before,” others still living their lives spread out across the miles. Moreover, I’m connected to a family that has existed and stretches back long before I was born – and yet, goes a long way in informing who I am today. And I need that kind of a reminder: what with being so busy simply trying to build a life and make a living, it’s very easy to forget that who we are is largely defined by our connections – and family is a big part of that!
Let’s face it, friends: for better or worse, our names, our traditions, our value system, indeed, our very lives have a great deal to do with our family connections (and if you’ve ever caught yourself sounding just like your parents or grandparents in dealing with your own kids, you know just what I’m talking about!). And there are other connections that go a long way in defining who we are: the communities where we live, the regional and ethnic cultures in which we find ourselves, the organizations with which we’re affiliated, our religion – even when we were born, the generation in which we were raised seems to have a lot to do with how we deal with life in general.
The fact is, all our many connections say something about who we are and the way we live our lives – but as Christians, there is one connection stronger and more prominent than any other, and that’s our connection to Jesus Christ. Jesus himself made that very clear when he told his disciples and us, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)Whatever else we can say about who and what we are, as Christians what we are first and foremost are branches connected to one true vine, who is Christ. From that one faith connection, everything else in our lives – everything – proceeds.
It’s from there that we have real life and true vitality; it’s there that we know a spiritual intimacy that nourishes us to face the challenges that come at us from every other part of life. It’s in that connection that you and I are enabled and empowered to bear fruit, that is, to live a life that is full and abundant and centered on a relationship with the divine that touches all things.
Yes, I am a person with connections, connections that matter. I will be forever linked to a family, to the traditions of a nation and a culture, connected to a church and community. And, like my Dad, I carry a great many mementos that remind me of who I am and where I come from – so do you, I suspect. But may the strongest and most prolific connection always be the one that matters the most: the connection that makes us part of the grapevine who is Jesus Christ. Because this is the connection that makes all the difference.
c. 2012 Rev. Michael W. Lowry