It happens in the gathering of the faithful episodically, but regularly enough to have to take of note of one’s reactions and behavior: someone gets her nose out of joint, someone blows his top, there is fighting and biting–not philosophical argument, not theological misunderstanding, not just opposite points of view, but personal hurts and slights slung and accrued on a List of Blame. Accusations are made, epithets are thrown, or a great silence is hung on the conversation. All lofty thoughts and prayers get set aside while one is dealing with the shock and pain of the set-to. Many years ago a Christian writer penned a book called, Where Two or Three are Gathered Together, Someone Spills the Milk. So when it happens to me, it should not come as surprise. But I am always taken aback. And I am not fond of it!
After what we see daily in political brawls and Church confrontations splashed across the media, social and anti-social, we can conclude that civility and manners have nearly disappeared. Moreover, the early Church had its fair share of infighting and conflict. Hence, we have that word to the wise in Galatians that warns that to “bite and devour each other” will lead to a ripping of the fabric of the community altogether. So, what to do when the disagreements become personal, ad hominem, unfair and painful? Or I am faced with my own sub-conscious spasm of grief and outrage when I am knocked silly by someone’s failure to behave in a manner that seems appropriate?
I take that pondering with me to church this morning, and I carry the request that seekers took to the Desert Ammas so long ago: Give me a Word. It is actually a prayer I have been praying for some time now, as I have struggled to find the right faith community in which to dwell, the place to feel at home with the faithful. Today that longing prayer is a more powerful force, as I worship, stinging with the hurts and the slights that have come into my field: Give me a Word. With that intention I listen, watch and open my heart. In the Prayer of Confession are these words: We neglect to listen to others, as you have listened to us. We fail to show compassion, as you have shown us compassion. Forgive us, Lord… In the Epistles text I read, Bless those who persecute you and do not curse them…If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12). Then, the sermon echoes what my spiritual director has said to me earlier in the week, that each one who is placed in our communities of faith is to be a teacher to us; they suggest that we ponder what each difficult one is called to help us know.
And so I go out with these words: compassion, live peaceably, overcome evil with good, learn from your teacher.
I have the Word. I have many of the words. Now I am called to do the things that make for peace.
From Janet Morley: God of intimacy, you surround us with friends and family to cherish and to challenge. May we so give and receive caring in the details of our lives that we also remain faithful to your greater demands, through Jesus Christ, Amen.