Last year, one book was the talk of the summer: “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed.
Following the popular genre of female memoir-spirituality-adventure writing of Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat Pray Love,” “Wild” tells the story of one woman who, in an attempt to find herself, decides to walk the Pacific Crest Trail.
Books in this genre that have dominated the New York Times’ best-seller lists now for several years.
A few weeks ago, NPR ran an intriguing story on Strayed’s book. I almost changed the station when they began talking about the book, figuring they were running an interview from last summer when the book was at its height of popularity.
Before I could change the station, though, I realized this was a more recent interview detailing the life of the book since publication.
Strayed began to tell the story of how this book has helped her find family. Before the publication of this book, she knew that she had a half-sister but had never pursued locating her.
Recently, while reading fan mail, she found a letter that was more personal than the rest. Although she noted that many of her emails and letters contain sentences like, “I feel we are connected,” this particular letter went on to say, “I really believe we are connected by the same father.”
Strayed’s half-sister had found this book in her local library. Although she was not interested in hiking, she was looking for a travel book and “Wild” caught her eye.
Halfway through the first chapter, she realized that this book was her half-sister’s book.
Although the author never names her father in the book, she gives vivid descriptions of the man. Reading the descriptions, her half-sister immediately recognized that the man in the book was her father.
The two sisters have now exchanged emails a few times and plan to meet soon. Neither is close to their biological father, yet both say reading the other’s writing about him – in Cheryl’s memoir and in the sister’s letter to Cheryl – they recognized the man immediately.
The connection to our faith in this story should be quite obvious – finding the same father through a similar book.
Isn’t that what our Scripture book is all about? Isn’t that one of the messages that we hear over and over throughout our book, we all have the same Father, so we need to learn to see and to treat one another as family?
As one of my favorite authors writes, “The first time you are born, you learn that those in the room are your family; the second time you are born, you learn that the whole world is your family.”
Our sacred texts communicate this message to us over and over and over again. The Ethiopian eunuch of Acts 8 is family. Cornelius in Acts 10 is family. Saul turned Paul is family. Mary Magdalene is family. The “sinners and tax collectors” are family. Even the religious and political leaders who oppose and ultimately unite to execute Jesus are family.
And this expanded understanding of who is our family continues today as much as we hate to admit it and seek to ignore it sometimes.
The neighbor who makes you so angry is family. The family member you have not spoken to since your argument last Thanksgiving is still family. The annoying co-worker is family.
The child starving in Africa is family. The homeless couple sleeping under the overpass in the downtown area is family. The family waiting for provisions from the local food bank is family.
The politician who makes your blood boil is family. The friend whose vision of an ideal society conflicts with your own. Even Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, he’s family, too.
What the Bible makes clear is that we all share the same heavenly father. And if we started really recognizing that, surely we would treat each other better, wouldn’t we?