Look around. Who should be here with us? Who is it that was once participated in our liturgies but hasn’t been lately (for whatever reason)? I want you to take the index card that was given to you and write the names of three people who haven’t been coming to Church. Now, put the card away for a bit.
We all know that there has been lots heart-breaking events lately among family members and within friendships . . . especially around politics.
In an essay in The Boston Globe Magazine [April 11, 2021], environment and nature writer Terry Tempest Williams shares her own family’s story of how the current state of politics has divided her family.
She and her Uncle Rich have always been close, even though he is right of right and she is left of left. Both are committed to their beliefs, but the two used to get along. But during the tense days of the election last fall, they stopped talking to each other. Sometime later, Terry decided to break the silence and call her uncle.
“Can we bridge this divide between us?” Both knew full well that the other would not change their views on “hot issues” like gun control, climate change or immigration. “So what do we do?” she asked.
Terry and Rich shared a deep love of nature. “You have a gift,” Rich told his niece. “If you are serious about bridging this divide in our country, go back to beauty, Terry. Write about the beauty of nature, so I can read what you write and be moved.”
Terry said she understood what he was saying and promised to try. “And what will you do to bridge this gulf between us?” “I will keep talking to you,” he answered.
The conversation was an epiphany for Terry. What holds her family together are not their stands or votes on individual issues but the spirituality they share, the beauty of nature that inspires them, the love and respect for one another that transcends whatever their differences. What keeps Terry and her uncle together will be softer, less angry and fewer politically charged words that are listened to with openness of heart.
“It’s not about our opinions or even our beliefs, it’s about our bonds,” Terry Tempest Williams writes. “That’s why my uncle didn’t want to talk to me — he was afraid talking would destroy us. Healing this uncivil war, especially within our own families, is not about changing our minds or even our hearts but first creating a space where we can meet unarmed . . .
Perhaps, the divide between us in this country is not about politics, but imagination. Can we imagine something beyond individual points of view? Do we have the capacity to listen beyond words to a deeper place of dwelling, in the way nature asks us to be still and present with other species: a great egret fishing the edges, a mink who surfaces like a wish? I will try depoliticizing my writing as my uncle has exhorted me to do, because I know beauty is the bedrock of my political life — and I will trust our conversations will continue with an unexpected grace.”
There was a word that appeared in all three of the readings today . . . covenant. Jesus talks about the blood of the covenant as he blessed the cup. Of course this relates to the image from the 1st reading using the same phrase “blood of the covenant.” And the writer of Hebrews wrote, “Christ in the mediator of a new covenant,” meaning that the old way is just not working. And for many of us, the old way of dealing with the person who disagrees with you isn’t working. So what do we do?
Well a covenant in the classic biblical style means give and take. A contract assumes that each party will do what it says it will. For example, I will pay you this amount for fixing my roof. If you don’t fix it, I don’t pay you. If you do, I keep my end of the contract.
A covenant is a give-and-take, where each party gives a bit and receives a bit. It’s the same kind of flow that we have with God . . . a covenant relationship. One that Jesus confirmed for us at the last supper. But too often we think that we have a contract relationship with God. That is, we feel that because we have said our prayers that God should obey our request. It does not work like that.
Instead, we are invited into a covenant with God and with those people who have not been attending (actually, it is with anyone that we feel distance with). Start by assuming their good intentions, that they are not “out to get you” or purposely meaning to fight. They are surviving just you are.
The second thing to do is to pray for them. Put that index card somewhere you will see it often and for the next three days, say a prayer for each of them. Not a prayer to “change their misguided ways” but a prayer for their well-being, their safety today . . . that they eat their vegetables, get enough sleep and be calm.
The third thing that you can do is to make contact with one of those persons on your list. AFTER your three days of prayer . . . reach out. This is also true for those viewing at home, invite that person to join you watching. We received a letter from a woman who has been watching our on-line Masses with her mother, who lives in a different part of the country. They watch the live-streaming then call to talk about the Mass. You could do that also.
It is always amazing that after deliberate prayer, those people (or one of them) will come into your space anyway. So “go for it” . . . be delighted by their presence . . . and perhaps, invite them “back home.” Home is here at the table. Home is where Jesus broke bread with disciples who were going to deny him and betray him. Home is where the table is set for all to come.
Perhaps all that one of those three people need is for you to say, “Welcome Home.”