Friday, April 30, 2010

Some Thoughts on Difference

I enjoy my duties here at the monastery. Among the several that I have, the one that draws my mind and heart in many different directions is the job of guest master in our retreat house. I meet a lot of people who come to us for as many reasons as there are those who come here. Last week, a group of high school students came for the day. They came from Druid Hills High School in Atlanta. We first met in a large room in the retreat house. I gave them a brief talk about our life here and then encouraged them to ask questions. And ask they did, all kinds of questions. After that, we headed out to the Abbey Store and then on to the bonsai area. I then had the chance to chat with them more informally. And it was fascinating. In a relatively short span of time, I met and chatted with students from Bulgaria, Afghanistan, Mexico, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Russia. I am sure that there were other students from other countries but the time was short and I was not able to speak individually with all of them. They were such a friendly group. The student from Bangladesh asked a lot of questions about monastic life, and the images he saw in our church. He told me he was Moslem and that he was glad we spent four hours of each day in church. He them told me that he walks two miles every day, twice a day, to his mosque and that if he had more time he would be there for the required five prayer times every day. He smiled and said that he could not be there all those times because he had much to do at home. I was astounded that he was able to make the two visits each day.
I took a lot of pictures of them and they are now one of my favorite screen savers. As I read or write a letter, their faces glide by on my computer screen, faces that are bright, hopeful, smiling and happy.
We live in a time when religious and cultural certitudes are no longer as certain as they once were. Many of us can remember times when persons of different religious and cultural affiliations were more isolated from each other. The reasons for isolation were many. People did not readily mix due to the distance imposed by miles, or mistrust, or dislike or even hatred. It is no secret that these and other distances still plague many of the peoples of this earth. Difference among us is inevitable. What we do about those differences is one of the most challenging dilemmas of our age. We cannot simply exist side by side as if difference does not exist. Human difference has a claim on our respective self-understandings. We are gradually learning something quite significant about ourselves and God in this process of being with and among others who differ from us.
I think of the above a lot. Our country is undergoing a wondrous and exciting transformation. And it is as close as Druid Hills High School or even your own block. The ways of God are among us, mixing things up and inviting us to learn about the Divine from what is ever new, ever smiling, ever hopeful, ever bright.
I look at my screen saver and see people from all over the world.
I look at them and wonder as to the God who is within them, a loving mystery in our midst who promises more that the saving of computer screens. In the smiles of those young people, I see the presence of God who will work through them, teaching a new generation what it means to make a loving presence from the gift of difference.

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