What does it mean to accompany? Why do we do it?
I pose it because there is a lot of accompanying going on right now at St. Margaret of Scotland, especially with regard to the new school leadership search.
- We accompany by way of our Novena of Accompaniment for the School leadership search – these nine days of prayers and reflection questions born of our mission, that many are sharing together, and many others are participating in from afar.
- We celebrated a Mass of Accompaniment on Saturday, when priest and deacon, ministers and congregation, young and old blessed the committee members, lifted voices in song, and shared homeward prayers.
- Those on the committee are accompanying Fr. O’Toole at the search table.
- Those rest of us are accompanying the whole effort by our prayers, our questions, our presence.
But do we even know what we’re doing? I ask again:
What does it mean to accompany? And why do we do it?
Merriam-Webster defines accompany as “to go with as an associate or companion.” The etymology, or linguistic roots, of accompany highlights the active tense: “to make someone a companion or associate”. These are also offered: “to be in company with, to attend.” Here are some possible take-aways:
- The “active” stance of accompany calls forth our shared place in the search.
If we accompany the search committee, we actively participate in the search process; if the searchers accompany prayer, they actively participate in prayer. We make the committee, and the search itself, our companion; and the committee makes of prayer and the pray-ers its companion. Together we search; together we pray; and the communication that we share binds us more closely in companionship, that relational version of companioning, whose synonym is fellowship.
- Accompany carries with it the call to attend, or “stretch towards” (Latin root, ad- and tenere).
For yogis among us, stretching means lengthening spines, sending hips skyward, and drawing pressed hands to heart center. In accompanying prayer, we, all of us, are asked to stretch our minds, bodies, and spirits towards the search, towards the committee’s collective efforts, towards the communal effort of praying, towards finding the next school leadership. This has meant showing up, as often as possible, to attend to the needs of our community in prayer and in the work unfolding at the table. It means giving space for our youth to articulate the anxiety of their hearts in this time of unknowing. It means listening to voices that engage us in the dialectic between mission values and practical action even when it feels uncomfortable. It means honoring that which resonates in our current situation and reaching beyond for the next, the other, the one.
- Accompaniment as “being in company with” aligns us with our Eucharistic selves.
“To companion” derives from the Latin (com- and panis): literally, “to break bread with another.” For Eucharistic people, this has implications. Prayerful accompaniment of this search means we “break bread” with those who search, and with those who pray; with the committee, with the community, and even, with the searched for known-now and not-yet. All of us, across time and space, together, deriving the path forward from our source and summit.
Most obviously, we do this when we celebrate Mass together. We allude to it when we pray novena prayers together. But we channel it also when we eat youth group pretzels together; when we parse job descriptions together; and when we await crumbs together. This bread we break is the gift of Christ among us, with we Christ’s hands and feet and voices and ears. We live, are crucified and resurrected in the very likeness of God.
So, What is this and why do we do it?
We accompany because we are accompaniment itself: bread, even the most humble of crumbs, blessed, broken, and shared for the life of this community, and for the life of the whole world.
All of our work, all of our presence, all of us brings us closer to the future our loving God intends for the community of St. Margaret of Scotland.
Be with us, won’t you? As you are, wherever, whenever, and whoever you are?
We welcome your company.
-Mary Lisa Penilla, 2/19/19