One might say that the mantra of the election campaign was “Change,” and it well might still be that as President-elect Obama transitions into the White House. However, I am getting a strong sense of the word “Unity” as well, and not just in American politics. Lately my thoughts have been on the ecumenical role of Christians around the world- our need as followers of Christ to reach out to the world to bring it together, to unify it. More and more I am realizing that what the world faces today is the steady dismantling of meaning in their lives. I first sensed this in my studies of Literary Theory- the tantalizing concepts of early 20th Century Modernism, which in turn led to deconstruction and other post-modern theories that essentially eradicated all sense of purpose and meaning through its vigorous analysis of language. These theories had enormous impact on philosophy and, unfortunately, as they left the Ivory Tower of Theory and drifted into the breeze of the mainstream, capitalized on a growing sense of disassociation and division in the general culture.
This disassociation from meaning cannot be answered by disparate and divisive language from those that profess the reality of God in our lives, in whatever form He/She takes. A more inclusive look at the reality of the Divine in all our lives, from those who profess the reality and truth of Christianity to those who seek the reality and truth of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Wiccan, etc. must be made. While this understanding still gestates and grows in my own mind and soul, with the perplexing questions that surround it (i.e. “How can I be true to my faith when any other is equally of value?”), I take hope (which is a supreme measure of faith), in some expressions of unity that I have come across in my own spiritual journey over the past couple of years. Most of these stem from my exploration of Christian monasticism, which on the surface to those not familiar with its precepts might be seen as structured, dogmatic, and therefore the most close-minded to thoughts of ecumenical outreach. I have found, on the contrary, that Christian monasticism has offered, even over the centuries, an intentional meditation and analysis on the figure of the “Other” in our lives, and indeed has figured prominently as the catalyst for such outreach. Consider a couple (for this post anyway):
Taize: from its website, Taize describes itself as “made up of over a hundred brothers, Catholics and from various Protestant backgrounds, coming from around thirty nations. By its very existence, the community is a ‘parable of community’ that wants its life to be a sign of reconciliation between divided Christians and between separated peoples.”
Michael Casey, in his article “Thoughts on Monasticism’s Possible Futures,” describes Taize as “transcend[ing] denominational boundaries…Believers find there a resonance to their unformulated spiritual yearnings. Yet Taize is not wishy-washy or without principles; it does not blur ecclesiastical distinctions. The magic of the community consists in the fact that it tries simply to be faithful to its own charism and call, and then invite others to share in what it has.”
Recently, 29 scholars, with either Catholic or Muslim backgrounds, met for the first Catholic-Muslim Forum, entitled “Love of God, Love of Neighbor. Their mutual declaration provides a hopeful sense of unity for interreligious dialogues to come in the future.
“We have this challenge in the United States to do something that has really never been done before, which is to create a multireligious and democratic state. In fact, the multireligious America is an extension of our commitment to a constitutional democracy. We have an opportunity to create such a state in a world that has very few models for this kind of religious pluralism…The obligation of a Christian is not only to witness to people of another religious tradition, but to listen to whatever witness they may have. And once you are speaking and listening you are already in the context of dialogue.”