Being part of an ecumenical community is an invitation from God to see our differences as enriching, rather than as an obstacle. A journey to global love and peace-making, which is what we are called to do in our Christian life, starts with valuing the differences of those next to us. Father Tonino Bello highlighted this when he said,
Peace is conviviality. It is eating bread with others, without separating. And the other is a face to discover, contemplate (…). What is peace? It is the conviviality of differences. It is sitting together at the same table, within different people that we are called to serve.
It is wonderful for me to take part in Mass and share the wonder of the Eucharist with my Catholic friends. But it is equally wonderful to take the experiences of love, awe and amazement for God that I experience in a Catholic context and bring them to the ecumenical table. Here, people bring their own backgrounds and experiences, creating a jigsaw of love for God that is diverse, colourful, chaotic, yet harmonious. In our Chaplaincy community, I am blessed with people who will listen when I talk about Mary as a revolutionary and pivotal figure in the Christian experience. At the same time, I listen to them when they encourage me to find God even when I do not find any direct images or paintings, perhaps relying more on the scriptures instead.
But what do we do when things are not as harmonious? I am lucky to be surrounded by people who find differences in traditions enriching at our Free Church services, but I have certainly had tense moments at university. For instance, I have never felt comfortable with trying to make my spiritual experience into a rational, philosophical argument for the existence of God, and that created misunderstandings with people who live their faith by doing precisely that. When these clashes happen, we must take them as an opportunity to acknowledgment our differences. God speaks to us in different ways. And because he speaks in different ways, our beings and expression of faith will be diverse – but always reflecting a little side of God’s voice and self. And isn’t the idea of putting different sides of God together wonderful? What a diverse, multidimensional and fuller picture we would get!
Of course, there will always be people who think a certain point of view is the only right way, and nothing else can valuably contribute. But my advice to this kind of opposition is to continue living as a testimony of God’s love residing in our differences, with those differences coexisting around the dinner table. When tense moments arise due to differences of opinion, do not fall into the temptation of nurturing that tension. Division cannot be any good – to counter the tendency towards it, the only thing is to enter the conviviality of differences Father Tonino called for.
Be patient. It can be frustrating when people don’t understand the beauty of ecumenism because they are so deeply rooted in a certain tradition. But I believe we exist to support and love each other in communion. I trust that God speaks through us, and through our being in communion with Christ and with others, we can be a medium for God to make a difference in someone’s life. When we feel like diversity is leading to tension and conflict, let us remember that diversity is richness. A Christian community is the equivalent to a bring and share meal; I bring bread, you bring cider, someone brings carrots, someone else bring hummus, others bring a cottage pie, and so on until we have a very full table! Isn’t this a much nicer idea than a table just made of carrots?! Perhaps right now I feel more comfortable with the idea of just eating carrots, and I don’t want to risk mixing them with hummus. But if I just give it a try I see the richness of flavour that comes from it. I might not enjoy cider that much, but I’m happy for other people to enjoy it and I recognise the importance of a good drink. God delights in our differences: let us fight the temptation of making them a matter of conflict because of pride, or fear, and let us create a colourful, delicious and joyful table. Bon appetit!
Written by Marianna Baltrami, a member of Warwick Christian Focus.