Have you ever felt like the only person on the face of the earth?
On the third day of our vacation in Ireland, my family travelled from Bunratty to Ballylickey by way of Kilarney, a distance of about 120 miles. After having a few days to get used to driving on the “wrong” side of the road, the journey began easily enough. Leaving Bunratty put us on a major motorway with two or three lanes of travel in each direction. As we approached smaller towns, the road got smaller, usually to one lane in each direction. It was a little windy, a little tight at times but certainly doable. It was only after we passed the picturesque little town of Kenmare that the GPS decided to take us on a little adventure.
The nice, one-lane-each-way, paved road began to get noticeably smaller. Instead of being well-maintained and large enough for vehicles to travel in opposite directions, the pavement became two simple dirt ruts just a little bit wider than the car’s wheels. And it began to climb. As we wound our way up a mountain, the buildings and trees and almost all signs of life began to disappear.
Except the sheep. No matter how remote the road became, no matter how steep cliffs, there always seemed to be just enough space for sheep.
As the sun faded behind the clouds I started to get just a little bit worried. As the road continued to climb and all signs of civilization disappeared, I remembered that our destination – the cottage where we planned to stay for the week – didn’t have an address, it only a name. Since there was no address, we had to put map co-ordinates in the GPS. The whole cottage-with-only-a-name-thing seemed quaint when I made the reservations. But now, I started to panic. What if I put in the wrong co-ordinates? What if we really were headed to the middle of nowhere? We had no cell service, no one was around to ask directions and there didn’t even seem to be anywhere that we could turn around. What if we got lost out here and ended up all alone?
I wonder what it would have been like for Adam in the Garden of Eden. Alone. No one to talk to or laugh with or cry with. No one to share his life. Sure, I guess he had God. There seemed to be some back and forth conversation between the first person and his Creator but c’mon, we all know how impersonal and distant God can seem sometimes. Adam was literally the only person in the world. It must have been lonely.
Traveling on the mountain road in Ireland wasn’t the only time I’ve felt alone in this world. I think that we’ve all felt lonely at some point; maybe at many times in our lives. Can you think of a time when you felt so alone?
In the Genesis story of Creation, God seems to be aware that Adam won’t be able to survive and thrive by himself. Maybe God even feels Adam’s pain. Maybe God knows what it’s like to be all alone. Perhaps that’s why humans were created, because God needed some friends. It must feel pretty secluded being the creator of the universe yet having no one to talk to.
Anyway, God realizes that Adam needs something more in life. At first, God creates some animals for Adam. Well, God creates all the animals I guess. Now Adam has to name the animals and care for them and he already has all of the plants and vegetation in the garden to tend so that keeps him busy and passes the time. It doesn’t take long, however, for Adam and God to realize that flora and fauna are not enough to give Adam’s life purpose.
So the Creator gets back to creating. God brings a whole other human into Adam’s life; a “right and proper partner….”
The Bible is a record of humankind’s evolving understanding of our world. Tales like the Genesis story are not literal (and were never meant to be taken literally) but that doesn’t mean they aren’t true. The authors of the Creation story illustrated thousands of years ago what we still know today: We are not made to live in isolation. Science tells us the same: We are created to be in relationship with other humans. Studies show how our bodies respond to the touch of another person in a way that helps us survive as individuals and as species; babies rely on mothers to find nourishment, skin-to-skin contact help them find milk; as children separate from their parents they know they are safe and secure when they are embraced. Endorphins released during physical contact to cause us to seek out others. Biologically, we may look for a mate because something primitive in us knows what it takes to ensure that our species continues on to another generation.
Beyond the physical and the physiological, our souls are fed because of our connections to others. Spiritually and emotionally, we rely on our neighbors to be there with us when we celebrate good times and we needs friends to support us when we are struggling.
In today’s world, relationships are changing because of technology. Now, I don’t believe that the internet is all bad. I actually have many personal and pastoral relationships that were created or have become stronger because of online interactions. For some people, being behind a computer screen instead of face-to-face allows them to be freer, more honest in conversations.
But still, the screens have changed our relationships. It’s becoming more and more rare to find places in our world where we have the opportunity to share space with others, to enter into an relationship where we can look each other in the eyes, offer a handshake or a hug, share the same air.
We still do that here though. In many ways, church is becoming counter-cultural and revolutionary. Church is one of the few places where we don’t hide behind screens, where we make the choice to interact with others in open and honest conversations, choosing to be imperfect humans occupying the same space.
It’s here that we can wrestle with our thoughts and our feelings. We can turn to scripture and to science and continue to explore our understanding of God and of our place in the world. We can be honest about all of our emotions, admitting when we are sad or proud or angry or content or lonely. And we can choose to walk together, supporting a friend who is struggling and asking for help when we stumble.
As a church we can talk about the tough issues. In the story, God puts Adam in charge of caring for the garden and by extension all of creation. That call is our call. God created us as stewards of an amazing world with plants and animals and humans and rivers and oceans and scary mountain roads. Together as a community, we can bring our energy together to care for the gift of creation and to make the world a better place. Climate change, pollution, tar sands, homophobia, racism, income and class and gender inequality: as a church we can admit our struggles and work towards solutions.
Not every community is like our church. Not every relationship is like the ones that are created here. The unique call of being church comes with joys and with costs. It’s not easy but when it’s done right it’s a blessing to each of us and to the world we’ve been given.
When I travelled that barren mountain road in Ireland, I was kept sane by the knowledge that I wasn’t alone. I had my family with me. Rachel, my “right and proper” partner in life was there and together we could figure it out.
Who in your life keeps you sane? I invite you to take a few moments to reflect on the relationships in your life, especially at MCC, that help you get through the times when you feel like the only person on Earth.
Dear God, Help us to always remember that we are not alone in this world. Open our hearts and minds to each other so that we may continue your work of creating a world of right and proper relationships. Amen.