My first time in a Community of Christ congregation, I felt like I had arrived at home. As a faithful Mormon, who was also really frustrated with his church, such was an immensely scary feeling. But tucked between the seats, I found a copy of Section 163, and these words calmed and challenged my heart: “Be vulnerable to Divine grace.” I’m in Community of Christ today because I responded to those words, despite the fear I felt at the time.
Love involves vulnerability. When you open up your heart to love, you are opening yourself up for the potential of being hurt, too. Often, this lesson is learned in reverse: after being hurt, we put up walls around our hearts so that we’re not vulnerable again. Those walls protect us, but come at the cost of not being able to make true and deep connections. Being vulnerable is key to marriage and community, friendship and discipleship.
I know many who don’t feel at home in church, Community of Christ or otherwise. For some, it’s been because they were hurt in one way or another; and as a protective posture, they’ve put up a wall around their hearts. Within Mormonism, it’s been said that people can leave the church, but they can’t leave it alone. Well, it’s because it was their home! It meant so much to them, and they had so much invested. Having loved the church gives them some ownership, a right to lament when they’re alienated from their home. I accept the same for those who lament changes in Community of Christ.
As one who lives in a literal desert, I’d take the hottest day in the Mojave any time over the harshness of a spiritual desert—of not being able to re-enter the faith of one’s religious awakening. Perhaps a journey into the desert is necessary, in each of our paths to understanding life. As one who chooses to believe in God, I hope, however, that others can find their way back home. Coming full circle has brought so much joy and peace into my life.
T.S. Eliot, in the last of the Four Quartets, writes:
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from….
We shall not cease from exploration.
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time
(Little Gidding, V)
There is a great deal of meaning, and power, and beauty in making the full circle from unquestioned faith, into the desert, and then back into the faith with one’s eyes opened.
But that takes some vulnerability, the kind I think the Prodigal Son would have to have had when he returned. Sure, the Prodigal had shame to deal with; but to enter into the sort of living he entered into, he must have blocked out the love that his father had for him. To return meant undoing the alienation and distance between him and his father in both geography and the heart.
God is all about tearing down the walls around our hearts, about bringing us back, bringing us home. But we have to choose whether we will allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough that such a transformation can take place.
I love that the Restoration’s sacred geography has Eden and Zion in the same locale: it’s always been about coming home, eyes opened, but coming home. And it is thrilling to end where we started, and know it, appreciate it, truly love it, for the first time.