Saturday, June 15, 2013

Why I Stayed (in TEC), Part X: The Fund of Ignorance

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".


  1. Nice words... like I said, you are in your groove.
    now, i don't think "why you stayed" is concluded. I suspect that it is "just beginning".

    "too often a reaction designed to restore happiness, but to whom? The self?"

    The "fall" of humanity???

    To be open to deep reflection and honesty may create anxiety-- the admission that we have not You with all our hearts and we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves.

    this is real "faith"... deep faith... to entrust ourselves and others completely to God.

  2. Dear unknown...You may be right that "Why I Stayed" is just a prelude, because you will notice a shifting of gears My next project will continue with the general subject matter of the schism in South Carolina and elsewhere. It will be titled "Connecting the Dots".

  3. We talk about "mountaintop moments" a lot in small groups. Most of us have literally been on mountaintops but being that most of the folks affected by this division we're discussing reside in the low country it may have been awhile since the last journey to the mountains. I now live in Hawaii where the mountains and the sea meet and reaching peaks can be done within a few hours or less. In fact I work at the top of a rather large hill, you might almost call it a mountain. So two recent experiences remind me of each other. While hiking a ridge trail with tall pines and other large trees near the top of a mountain I noticed the sound of the wind was undeniable. It got so loud at times amplified by the rustling of leaves that I felt sure I understood what the Holy Spirit sounded like at Pentecost (Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. -Acts 2:2). It's a wonderful and powerful sound. It's stayed with me the past few months. There is an outdoor track on the hilltop where I work which offers grand views of Pearl Harbor and the south and southwest coast of Oahu. It's a busy cityview kind of scene. The mountain range behind our hill is pure nature. It's a stark comparison, especially running on a track where you see city on one side and mountains on the other. Being so close to the mountains, tropical weather can be very intermittent and often a brief but unexpected shower can hit. The rush and force the wind brings and being so much closer to the clouds and sky than usual makes it hard not to think of anything but God. You can clearly see who sends the wind and rain and how quickly and forcefully these things are sent. There is also no shelter and nothing between you and the wind. This reminds you of your vulnerability and is very humbling. It's also very empowering because you are so very high up, no distractions and nothing in the way. It seems like there is no barrier and speaking to the Lord is as easy as it always should be. So my prayer for all our Christian brothers and sisters is to experience a mountaintop moment. Not the kind of spiritual high we are used to associating it to, but the kind of humbling experience that happens when God's presence leaves you in awe. This kind of experience doesn't leave you dreading the "time in the valley" after you come down from the mountain. It fills you with peace and gives you a thankful heart. It helps make things seem more obvious and priorities become clearer. Give it a try...see what happens.