the brethren

Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus...

Thinking this morning about how I got to be among friends here, I remembered the story of Saul's conversion (in Acts 9). From the moment his eyes were opened he was led by the hand, into a series of relationships and underground communities who helped him and sheltered him. The vision of Christ threw his plans into disarray and isolated him. But then someone was sent to take him in and introduce him to new brothers and sisters, who (cautiously) embraced the one who had formerly hunted them.

When I left the seminary and first started walking, in the summer of 2000, I felt very alone. Not many encouraging voices and no one (at least no one alive I could see) to show me the way. That isolation made even an introvert like me hungry for someone who understood. Then, that winter I found the Jesus Radicals website, which said what I was hoping to hear: "You are not alone."

I spent a lot of time that winter in the JR discussion forum, talking with Andy and Nekeisha (and others around the country) about a wide range of thoughts on the Christian life and the society around us. And, in the years that followed, I visited many of those people on my walks. In South Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York. During one walk, Eric, a friend from the forum and a Catholic Worker in Illinois, arranged to pick me up to take me to the first JR conference. That was in New York City, where I first met Andy and Nekeisha in person.

The following year I heard of Reba Place in the forum, and since I was walking to Chicago anyway, I decided to visit. And ended up staying for almost three years. There I found many new friends, living in a household with ten other people. And there I met Heather.

Last fall, just as Heather and I were wondering about our next step, Eric invited me to lead a discussion at the Catholic Worker in Champaign, IL. That turned out to be our introduction to the many people who we'll be living and working with for the next year. And it inspired my visits to several CW houses this summer, in Akron, Cleveland, and now South Bend. Lots of new friends and kindred spirits.

This year's walk will end at Plow Creek farm, a community that sprung out of Reba Place. There I'll see Heather again, as well as Reba friends, and get to see Rose, a new friend I recently met in the JR forum. And several of us will go to this year's JR conference in Chicago. Then back to the farm for a few weeks, to work and get to know "the brethren" there.

It just seems like an ever widening web of relationships and friendly places that I've been led to, from the moment of my first shaky step. And my travels and visits to a variety of communities has helped me see the common spirit and spiritual interconnectedness among the people of God. So I'm not inclined to accept a structured, institutional substitute for "the brethren." It's the Spirit that makes us brothers and sisters, and that spirit blows where it pleases. It shows us the relationships that we have been brought into through Christ, directing us to the people and places prepared for us. Leading us by the hand.