An hour and a half into our family celebration, things were looking a little dicey.
Someone suggested that a “cousins photo” would be a fine idea – capturing for posterity the presence of a goodly portion of the Gertie & Ambrose clan. Twenty grandchildren their family of five had produced…and here, in 2022, no less than 16 of us had gathered last week – from half a dozen different states – to mark the eldest’s upcoming 70th birthday.
A fine idea in theory, this photo. But in practice, it became no little challenge to herd the cousins (or were they cats?) into a manageable grouping.
But after several minutes of wrangling and an attention-getting whistle or two, the feat was completed: a full set of JPGs to share with anyone interested, inside the clan or out.
It might be hyperbole to call the group photo a miracle, but I noticed that by the end of our evening together, my heart had been filled with a certain sense of awe. Growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, I’d never considered our big loving family to be all that special. In my youthful naivete, I thought almost everybody was blessed in just this way.
I’ve now lived long enough – and seen enough of our broken world – to know better. A large, loving family is a precious thing – an awesome gift from God. A great mystery, too, as I came to understand in the hours we spent together that evening. We shared our memories, these 16 cousins and their loved ones. We learned of accomplishments, and careers, and heartbreaks. We basked in the Christ-light of those who’d gone before us.
Not a person in the room (or in our memories) was perfect, mind you. Indeed, the recollection of certain family members’ quirks and brokenness led to some of the very best stories as the evening wore on. Still I came away from our reunion awestruck – and inclined to marvel how the sum total of our family’s story serves to reveal the glory of God.
In this week’s scripture readings, we are reminded how the Holy One does in fact pitch a tent among us. God’s love is manifest in this precious gift we call family, as Abram learns:
“Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so,” [the Lord God] added, “shall your descendants be.”
Of course, in our naivete, we can sometimes miss the point entirely. And so we are sometimes given theophanies, too – special “mountaintop” moments when we are invited to enter the cloud, and perhaps see Jesus in a whole new light: Christ, our brother, fully present in the person of those who’ve loved us all our lives.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.