It seems particularly ironic that in this week that Churches Together has designated a week of Christian unity I should be writing on the eve of the Primates meeting in Dublin, a meeting from which a number of the Primates seem likely to absent themselves. One of the readings in Church yesterday was 1 Corinthians 10-17, appropriately enough about disunity in the early Church and a reminder that Christ is our foundation and should be the source of our unity. It made me think of this passage from Rohlheiser's The Holy Living:
Imagine a woman, whom we shall call Betzy, who has a heart the size of the Grand Canyon. She is gracious, loving, devoid of prejudice, and with an understanding and empathy wide enough to encompass everything and everybody.
Because she is so loving, she has a very wide variety of friends and one night she decides to have a party and invite them all. She rents a hall to hold everyone. And her guests begin to arrive. Men, women, and children show up, of every description, ideology, background, temperament, taste, social standing, and religion.
A curious mixture of persons fills the hall. Liberals and conservatives, fundamentalists and feminists, Promise Keepers and New Agers, priests and anticlerics, union presidents and bankers, animal rights activists and persons involved in the seal hunt, meat-eaters and militant vegetarians mingle with each other. Present is the president of the local pro-life association, but the president of pro-choice is also there. Ian Paisley is there, as is the leader of the Irish Republican Army.
Given the mix, there is fair amount of tension, but because Betzy is there, because she is in the center of the room, and because they respect who she is and what she stands for, everyone, for that night at least, is polite to one another and is enough engulfed in a certain spirit of tolerance, respect, decency, and charity to stretch them beyond how they would normally feel, think, and act.
As you can imagine, such a gathering would work only while Betzy was actually present. Should she have to excuse herself and leave, or should persons get preoccupied in ways that would make them forget the real reason why they are there, you would soon enough get a combination of fireworks and dissipation that would empty the room.
This particular mix of persons can be brought together and kept together only around one person, Betzy. Everything depended upon her presence and upon those present having her wide empathy while they are in that presence, that is, upon being in her spirit.
That is an image of the Christian Church around Jesus Christ. Outside of a focus on His person and what we are drawn to spontaneously live when we sense His presence, we have angry fireworks and constant dissipation, as the state of our families, communities, nations, and world give ample testimony too.
Nothing else, ultimately, holds us together.