Please linger with me for a bit on these words. My comments are below:
An attitude of unconditional hospitality is always a religious experience, because it puts us in a position to transcend our limits and share in the creative caring of God. People are always limited, so this encounter is also a painful revelation of our limitations. We come up against frontiers, and not only language barriers but also irreconcilable incompatibilities.
Neverthless we must always reach out to the other afresh, exposing ourselves to the unknown with the conviction that the God of the Exodus accompanies us through these difficult exchanges. The shock of meeting undeniable experiences of the Absolute, which are not yet possible to assimilate into our own experience, considerably broadens our religious understanding. God is greater than our hearts (I John 3:20), and much greater than our theology. The little we know of God is based on a far wider fund of ignorance. So long as we remain in our traditional universe we can be unaware of this. But when we leave it, when we witness altogether different approaches to the Absolute, we can better appreciate how far God is beyond us and our contemplation acquires a much wider field.
--Pierre Francois de Bethune, Order of St. Benedict,
former Secretary General of all regions of the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue
from 1992-2007. He is a member of the St. Andre de Clerland Monastery in Belgium
Several phrases stand out:
"unconditional hospitality" -the implications, if we are to take seriously the word "unconditional", are so stretching, so category-busting, so challenging that to be deeply honest before them we must admit our feeble limitations. These words echo "if anyone compels you to go one mile, go with him two." (Matthew 5:41) Actually to allow yourself to be compelled by one who does not share with you much obvious common ground is to be Jesus Himself. In order to live like this, there can be no room for enemies at all. This is radical and, of course, unpopular. As I said in my post number IX, we would rather seek common ground, huddle together, and exclude.
"irreconcilable incompatibilities"- again, strong words. In our culture, when we hear the word "irreconcilable", most often a divorce is involved. Separation, divorce, division of property...too often a reaction designed to restore happiness, but to whom? The self? "It is because of the hardness of your hearts that Moses granted a certificate of divorce." (Mark 10:5) I'm tired of people accusing the church of pandering to the culture. Could it not be said that many of those who say this are actually pandering to themselves? Who is being made "happy" when we divide? Let's let God 1) hold us together, 2) correct us whenever we DO pander to anyone but Him and 3) teach us how to work out any "irreconcilable incompatibilities" in our own house first. Then we can take our show on the road legitimately.
"fund of ignorance"- God's thoughts and ways are infinitely vast and incomprehensible. By comparison, all our knowledge and wisdom combined add to little more than a "fund of ignorance". Let's be kind to ourselves and call it ignorance, and not willful malice, that causes us to presume to know better than He when we decide to ignore His prayer that we be one.
Fr. Pierre Francois was writing concerning interreligious dialogue; i. e., holding graceful conversations and taking relational risks with those who are religious, but not Christian, with those who do not subscribe to our theology or to our scriptures or to our Trinitarian God. We come woefully short of doing this among ourselves. We must learn that true godliness is not found in division. Division is the devil's desire for us.
I call on all who will listen to come back to the table. But those who have left have said they have "moved on". I am now left with having to give them up to God. No one can make them come back. And now we must rely on Him who restores broken people and broken things. As always, it is beyond us. But still...."Let's talk."
In Genesis, the people were thrown into confusion by a division of language and eventually a scattering of culture and geography. The Bible tells us it was because of hubris, in humanity's wanting to attain the lofty stature of God. In Acts 2:6, at the sound of the mighty, rushing wind of the Spirit, the people were drawn back together in bewilderment (out of their confusion) and, in a reversal of the Babel fraction, each one heard them speaking in their own language.
Come once again, Holy Spirit, and heal our sad divisions.
This concludes the series "Why I Stayed". My next project is entitled "Connecting the Dots".