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I knew it would be a hard election. I didn’t allow myself to believe it would be this hard. As Christians, we have a fundamental call to see each other as sacred children of God. And that recognition beckons us toward action marked by the work of reconciliation and healing.
Scripture continually centers us: The great commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves, The story of the Good Samaritan, The image of the body in 1 Corinthians 12, The final judgement in Matthew 25. Over and over, we are challenged to embrace God’s love in our own heart and to share that love with others. Even more profound, there is a primary call to share that love with those we see as most undeserving.
So, looking in the mirror, I am forced to ask myself: Am I seeing the other side of the election battle with love? How am I engaging others to foster reconciliation and healing? Do I avoid joining the partisan battles and engage in a positive way?
On November 4th, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin reflected on our election, “Whatever the outcome is going to be, we remain a deeply divided, polarized nation, more than at any time in our recent history.” Reaching out and working toward healing and reconciliation will not happen without intention and hard work. It will not happen without surrendering our own sense of superiority. It will not happen without being willing to see the glimmer of truth and gift in the other side.
There is a concept central to BeFriender Ministry called Mutuality. Mutuality is the respectful give and take between and among two or more persons. It requires intentional willingness to engage. It requires a wise understanding that people make sense of the world through a complicated mixture of past experiences—interpreting life through the lens they have lived. While neither right nor wrong, it is their interpretation. It requires a willingness to hold oneself open to another—letting go of one’s own judgements or agendas. Mutuality can exist on two levels—both valid, sacred ways of connecting.
Level One Mutuality calls us to actively listen to the story of another. With respect and dignity, “we listen not to judge, probe, evaluate, or advise but rather to hear and understand from that person’s perspective.” This takes work. It requires commitment to surrender the desire for rebuttals. It requires remembering the sacredness of the other. It opens us up for possible transformation. In the wisdom of BeFriender Ministry, this Level One Mutuality is to be 90% of our communication. Ninety percent of our time is actively listening, staying willing to engage.
Level Two Mutuality, only 10% of this sacred communication, is experienced when trust is built through non-judgmental listening of Level One. It is in this moment that we respectfully offer our perspective. The reality: you may stay at Level One and never enter Level Two—and that can be enough.
Can we listen to understand? Trusting that God is present, actively listening in a non-judgmental way, makes room for the miracles of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, our God is active among the division and brokenness. We are all called to trust God and listen.
Our new outdoor banner shares the powerful words of Pope Francis.
“We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every Life.”
Pope Francis – On the Death of George Floyd, June 3, 2020
Recently I was able to coordinate our annual young adult retreat. In more normal times, we typically go away for a weekend in the fall. In our present situation we made the retreat a day-long experience rather than a weekend. How different it was to be in a room together spread out and masked up! The ability to be together in person, reflect on our lives and enjoy some of the beautiful trails at the retreat center was a great blessing (and it was the weekend before snow started falling, so the right time!)
One of our materials on prayer featured the life of the Trappist monk Thomas Merton from the 1960s. It was enlightening to reflect on his life as a young adult, and spiritual experiences that led him to desire personal growth in faith and holiness. His experience ultimately led him to a religious community, but all of us could relate to reflecting on where we are in our lives with faith, jobs, relationships, and our present world still dealing with this pandemic and so much unrest. How has God called each of us with our own gifts and talents to help bring about God’s Kingdom?
One of Merton’s most famous quotes came from a mystical experience he had on a fairly random day in Louisville, Kentucky. I was reminded of it at the retreat and it has stayed with me since then. Merton wrote: “In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world. . . There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
Merton connects this experience in part to the Incarnation of Jesus. One of the most precious realities of God’s becoming a human being is that we are called to relationship with God and each other in a new way. Wherever we are and whoever we are with, “they are mine and I theirs,” as he put it.
We are just coming off one of the most divisive presidential elections in our country’s history; we may still not know who won the election. No matter the result, a significant part of the country will be unhappy with the result. One almost constant temptation will be to demonize those with whom do not agree. While we will not all have the same experience of Thomas Merton on that street corner, what if we could “wake from a dream of separateness” and try to see those around us “shining like the sun”? In what ways are we being called to bring about more civility, peace and connection in a world that remains so broken and fragmented? Perhaps our prayer this week can be to ask God for that wisdom to be aware of those opportunities, and the courage to act with grace and mercy.
Coordinator of Young Adult, Young Family, and Marriage Ministry
The Basilica of Saint Mary