This spring my Ph.D. course is titled “Women Philosophers, Mystics and Wisdom Teachers” and we have been reading books from various spiritual and religious traditions throughout the centuries. Our current readings are on justice, reconciliation and peace. This past Monday I had to give an online teaching presentation on the book “Relational Reality” by Charlene Spretnak. It’s a rather dense book, full of research studies and statistics, but ultimately what Spretnak is trying to do is explore our current state of affairs (or “current crisis”), and the impact the Relational Shift of thinking/understanding would have on our way of being. Spretnak discusses this Relational Shift as an awareness that “all forms of life are composed of relationships and function in dynamic relationship with everything else…Nothing exists in isolation” (Kindle location, 377-380).
This idea that “nothing exists in isolation” is not really a new idea. I think we’ve all known that for a long time…even if we didn’t “know” it. When we were created, God intended us to be in loving relationship and communion with God, each other and creation. And yet, we sometimes forget that and end up being angry, unhealthy and detached. We become more focused on ourselves than on our community.
In the gospel from Luke, we encounter the Pharisees and scribes who are grumbling because Jesus is welcoming to and eating with sinners. They are grumbling because they’ve lost sight of their relationship to these folks. They are grumbling because instead of seeing children of God, they see what’s wrong with the person—“the sinner”. They are grumbling because they are driven by pride, jealousy, anger and self-righteousness. But Jesus is a man of grace and compassion, and so instead of scolding the Pharisees and scribes for their grumbling, he tells everyone a story.
Most of us are familiar with the parable of the Prodigal Son. At some point in our lives, for better or worse, we’ve probably identified as each of the three characters—the young son who left home and comes back begging forgiveness, the older son who has stayed home and is resentful about the welcome his younger brother was extended, and the generous and loving father who welcomes his son home.
We don’t like to admit it when we’ve behaved like the older son, but the truth is, we’ve all behaved that way at some point.
So why is it that the older son can’t be happy for his brother’s return and his father’s welcome?
Because he assumed the worst about his brother and he was driven by his anger, pride, jealousy and self-righteousness. And these are all expressions of fear. He is afraid that if his brother is welcomed home, there won’t be enough room for him, he won’t have a place in the house, that he won’t be loved anymore. Like the Pharisees and scribes, he is afraid that if Jesus welcomes the “other” then there won’t be room for them in God’s kingdom.
How often have we felt that same kind of fear in our lives? The fear that if we welcome the “other”—the gay man, the immigrant woman, the homeless couple—that we will somehow lose our place?
But God’s love and grace don’t work like that. Every time God’s love and healing reaches out to welcome the “other”, we are not diminished; there isn’t less for us, but more! So wait, how does that work? Maybe you’re saying to yourself, “Anna, the math doesn’t add up”.
Here’s how it works…
God’s love and grace are based in God’s reconciliation with humanity and all creation. Because God is reconciled with us through Christ, we become, as 2nd Corinthians tells us, “ambassadors for Christ”…in other words, we become instruments of reconciliation. So as we have been reconciled with God, as we reconcile with others, as we act as an extension of God’s love and reconciliation, we only multiply God’s healing in the world…not take away from it. We’re working towards that Relational Shift that Charlene Spretnak talks about; we’re working towards re-membering our community instead of trying to live in isolation.
The only way this is not a “winning” situation for us is if we chose NOT to extend God’s love and reconciliation. When we aren’t actively working towards reconciliation, actively working towards re-membering the body of Christ in the world, then we are diminishing the Kingdom of God in our midst.
In my class next week, we’re reading Alice Walker’s “Anything we love can be saved”. Maybe you’ve heard of Alice Walker…she wrote the book “The Color Purple”…it made Oprah a movie star in the 80s. Anyway, this book we’re reading is a collection of essays and reflections by Alice Walker about her work to re-member her community, her relationship with the Divine, and the world. It’s a book about reconciliation.
So this is a great parable for Lent, and an invitation into the final weeks of Lent to prayerfully examine which relationships need to be reconciled in our lives. As a matter of fact, reconciliation is what Lent is all about, and why I offer the opportunity for people to make private confession during Holy Week…so that we can move into a place of healing and well-being, so that we can be a new creation, so that we can be resurrected in Christ.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu is, I believe, a saint. His work on reconciliation has been life-altering for so many wounded and broken people in the world. On the topic of forgiveness and reconciliation he said, “without forgiveness there can be no future for a relationship between individuals…” Without forgiveness we exist in isolation. Without forgiveness, we are not as God had intended us to be.
I think Alice Walker was right when she said “anything we love can be saved” so long as we practice reconciliation.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.