Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Learning to Live with Diversity

In the Salt Jar section   of the Bible & Life magazine, the writer reminds us of the mystery of community life. In religious life, members do not choose who they will live with; their companions are selected for them. What joins them together is their commitment to imitate the life of Christ and, following his teachings, to grow spiritually into a vibrant community with all its diversity. They follow the evangelical counsels and become enraptured with the desire for unity in the Lord.

This ideal is not always achieved, the writer reminds us. There is the stress of dealing with each other's failings. And the failure to sublimate our differences brings immature behavior. In minor manners this can be overcome; in serious matters this will work against the attainment of the goals of the spiritual life that the members want to achieve.

A Korean religious sister mentioned an incident she found instructive while living with a community of nuns in Switzerland. Sister A of the community returned from a walk and  put a flower in front of the statue of the Blessed Mother.  Admiring the flower the Korean sister standing  before the statue was approached by sister A  and asked: "Beautiful is it not?" She tells the Korean sister she was so impressed with the flower, she regretted that she was the only one  to see it and  took one of the  flowers from the field and placed it before the statue for all to see.

Shortly after, sister B came by and reprimanded sister A for cutting the flower and preventing others from seeing the beauty of the flower in  its original environment. This brought other sisters to the statue and they began quibbling over what had been done. The Korean sister, half laughing and embarrassed, left and began to reflect on our differences.

Because of these differences, we often have conflict and misunderstandings. She reminds us that differences are not always errors or mistakes. There are different ways to climb a mountain, and notes that though in the Korea of the past there was only one brand of coffee, today there are many different types to choose from. We also have the Synoptic Gospels which present the same Jesus seen by three different sets of eyes, which enable us to get closer to him.

In many of our big meetings and chapters of  religious organizations, it is not rare to have a facilitator, a member not of the community, invited to help the organization or group to work more effectively. They do not take sides but work to help the group accomplish what they want to do.They are servants to the community to help the group work through some of the areas of conflict, resolving the differences by coming to a mutual understanding that will enable the group to reach their goal.

With the many different personalities and theologies, the cultural influences, and our personal failings, to come  to some understanding of what we are to be as Church is far from easy. The facilitator is just one way to help us work within the Church to be more open to Jesus and his call to mission.

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