I was sitting at home one recent evening. I had no special plans, except to write my usual spiritual reflection piece. I like doing them in the evening, since that gives me a whole day to be aware, pay attention, and to see what comes my way. I know one of the reasons I still like writing these things is it encourages me to live with a level of awareness that I am not sure I would do if I weren’t somehow responsible for writing something. It is a wonderful discipline.
Out of the silence, my phone rang. The nice thing about cell phones is there are almost no junk phone calls as I recall in the good old days of the landline. If the phone rings, it almost is always for me. Someone is connecting. A very familiar voice greeted me. That was nice. But it provoked me to think.
At least in my world, no one calls without some intentionality. That means there is a reason for virtually every phone call I get. Even if someone calls simply to chat, that is a reason. I am not sure I ever thought of this. And the same thing is true when I make a call; there is a reason. Someone might call “just to see how I am” and that is sufficient reason. I am glad I am now aware of the intentionality of every phone call.
So I answered the phone, exchanged the appropriate pleasantries, like “how are you,” and then was presented with an invitation. “Would you like to come and be with us? We would love to have you,” the voice said. I was touched. I was being invited to join a couple of other people. At one level, it was certainly no big deal. I agreed, made the visit, enjoyed myself and was ready for a little more reflection.
An invitation is both a gift and a request. It is a gift because it comes to us. Of course, we can be more aggressive and invite ourselves into a situation. But I don’t really count that as a true invitation. The true invitation is a gift. It comes as a request to join another person or a group in some kind of activity. And the neat thing about an invitation is the choice is up to us. We can say yes or no. An invitation preserves our freedom.
Thinking further into the phenomenon of invitation allows me to recognize that an invitation means someone wants us. Someone wants to make the phone call, wants me to come over wants me to join. An invitation is a call to belong. Momentarily at least, someone or some group wants us to connect, join and belong. In most cases, it is not for a long time. Usually the invitation is temporary---with terminal limits. The phone call ends with “Good-bye.” The visit ends with my return home. But for the moment, someone wanted me. Someone requested me to belong.
From here it is easy to move it to a deeper, spiritual level. As I ponder it at this deeper level, I realized how spiritual the idea of invitation really is. Since I am a Christian, I want to reflect on it from that perspective---from the Christian invitational perspective. I begin with the creation stories. The way I read those Genesis accounts is to understand God out of love brought humans into existence in order for us to be in relationship. God’s creative love is never coercive; it is always invitational.
The story of human development has frequently been to refuse the divine invitation. Out of our freedom, we so often have said a “No” to this divine-human relationship. But God persists. God has found many ways to issue a variety of invitations to humankind. After the bondage of Egypt, God used Moses and invited the people out of bondage. Oddly enough, this invitation had its first stop in the wilderness! But there in that so-called God-forsaken place, God showed up on a mountaintop and invited the people to be part of the Covenant. God’s invitation was this simple: “I’ll be your God and you’ll be my people.” It was an individual invitation and a group invite. Again it was a call to belong---to be part of.
For a Christian, the last invitation is the invitation God extends through Jesus. In fact, I would interpret the call of disciples as an invitation. “Follow me,” he often said. I see that as his invitation. It is a gift and a request. It preserves our freedom. We are free to say, “No.”
I have repeatedly tried to say “Yes” to the divine invitations. I appreciate the opportunity to belong. Personally, I understand the kind of spiritual belonging offered by God and by Jesus as a chance to be in relationship with the Holy One who created me. And corporately, I understand the kind of spiritual belonging offered to be in a community of others who have chosen to belong. In fact, that is a good definition of community---a spiritual group of folks who belong…belong to God and to each other.
The alternative to belonging is stark. Not to belong is to be isolated and alone. It is to be unconnected and, in some way, unwanted. Theologically, this would be some form of hell on earth. The good news is this, too, is a choice. If you want to be in hell, that is your choice. If not, there will be an invitation.