by the Rev. Paul Jarvis
based on a guest column printed in the Sun Thisweek 3/7/2013 edition
Don’t bother reading this if you aren’t exactly ecumenical … you’re not interested in what Christian denominations have in common.
Don’t bother reading this if you don’t feel the need to get off the roller coaster of life, and just reflect. Meditate. Join in prayer with others.
Don’t bother reading this if other cultures are of no interest to you.
Do read this article if you’ve long wondered, as have I, what would finally bring Christians together, stubbornly divided for centuries in spite of our Savior’s wish that all Christians be one.
United. But not uniform.
Back in the ’60s, Christians of many denominations hoped, and even believed, that we would have become one extended family by now. Back in the ’80s, Pope John Paul II not only welcomed Christian leaders to Assisi in order to pray together for peace. In the ’90s, he asked Christians of all creeds to suggest how his “Petrine ministry” could be a source of unity within the Christian world.
I think I found a clue to how Christians might eventually come together. My comparative religious studies work at Macalester College took me to Nepal (1990/91 and 1992), a predominately Hindu kingdom with a sizable Buddhist minority.
Among the Buddhist Nepali people were many Tibetan refugees from occupied Tibet. My studies were with these largely Vajrayana Buddhist refugees. Quite counter-intuitively, I found the long history of Buddhism in Tibet to be marred with a significant amount of inter-religious conflict, including intrigue, violence and warfare.
Much of that violence throughout Buddhist history into the 20th century was in the form of warfare between Tibetan Buddhist sects. (Sound familiar, Christians?) And even between Buddhist monasteries.
Nyingma versus Kagyu versus Sakya versus Gelug. The Dalai Lama versus the Pänchen Lama – who were, incidentally, both at the highest level of Gelug tradition leaders.
The Tibetans I met and befriended in Nepal, however, were both diverse in tradition and at peace with each other. What finally brought them together? Quite frankly, it was a greater evil from abroad: namely, the country’s foreign occupation and eventual genocidal destruction … a genocide that spared neither people nor institutions. Refugees pouring into Nepal and surrounding countries would learn that fellow Tibetans were not their ideological enemy. And that they had far more in common than earlier conflicts allowed them to see.
Today, in Kathmandu (Nepal) and Leh (Ladakh) and Dharamsala (India) and Minneapolis (Minnesota), Sakya Buddhists practice and study next to Buddhists of the Gelug tradition … and these monks and lay people alongside Nyingmapa and Kagyupa. Most sect members today value their ancestors’ traditions, while respecting and learning from their Buddhist brethren.
Since my studies in Nepal, I’ve wondered what global conflagration will finally unite Christians, long-stubbornly embracing sectarianism. What disaster would bring significant unity about?
In the 21st century, perhaps it will be the threat of losing members to a competitive, evangelizing world religion. Or a global socio-economic or natural cataclysm. The highly evangelistic New Atheist movement sweeping through the cyberworld looks to me to be a good candidate for destroyer/unifier.
We Christians should learn from earlier success in ecumenical resurrection from destruction. Immediately following World War II – when western Europeans were totally fed up with both Fascism and Bolshevism, and a system where God was used and abused by both sides of any conflict – the ecumenical movement took off.
Beginning in the ’60s, mainline Christian denominations began to recognize – gasp! – each other’s baptisms, no longer damning the other by association. Some denominations even merged or shared ordained ministers. Nevertheless, this gathering together of mutually respectful Christians began to stall in the ’90s.
Keeping hope alive is a group like the Taizé community in France. It’s worth your time researching this community through Wikipedia or www.TAIZE.fr.
Taizé (pronounced “teh-ZAY”) is an ecumenical Christian monastic community founded by no less than a French Calvinist; its first abbot, in fact. (The last time I checked, not many Protestant denominations, much less the tradition of John Calvin, embrace monasticism.) Its current abbot is a Christian from the Catholic tradition, and membership in the community comes from nearly every Christian tradition.
Emerging from this ecumenical community was a common prayer service where all its monastic members could pray together as one – though they might celebrate in different Sunday liturgies. The focus of this prayer service would be Taizé’s unique “simple song” or “chant.” These hymns usually repeat a line or two to incredibly beautiful instrumental music.
To get a taste of Taizé chant, simply Google “Taizé chant.” It’s even more enchanting when experienced in person, among an assembly of faithful.
Focusing prayers’ vision are plenty of candles – symbolic of the Light of Christ, and the Spirit descending as tongues of flame – as well as icons of Christ and his friends.
Those attending such an ecumenical prayer service will immediately understand why the Taizé movement is sweeping the Western World and Asia. And so can you, dear reader.
The St. Joseph community is hosting a Taizé Prayer Service on Tuesday, April 1, (April Fools’ Day for ‘Fools for Christ’) 7-8 p.m., the new St. Joseph church east of Highway 3, 13900 Biscayne Ave. W., Rosemount. All are welcome to join this Lenten meditation on any darkness in one’s life … and on Christ’s light.
For Catholic Christians, Lent is a time for deep study of Christ’s teachings and for examination of one’s discipleship … all in preparation for the Paschal Journey: Leading to PALM SUNDAY (April 12, 5 p.m., April 13, 8:30, 10:30 a.m. and 6 p.m.), HOLY THURSDAY (April 17, 7 p.m.), GOOD FRIDAY (April 18, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.), the EASTER VIGIL (Saturday, April 19, 8:30 p.m.) and EASTER SUNDAY (April 20, 6:30, 8:30, 10:30 a.m.).
For Christians embracing any tradition, winter-turning-into-spring is a time to step off the roller coaster of life, sit and pray, sing and look within. And to join others as one’s true brothers and sisters. No matter their tradition.
Though prayer with each other and with God is the main focus of Taizé gatherings, those wishing to have their confession heard will have many Catholic confessors available. Those not needing confession – as well as Christians of other traditions – seeking brief spiritual guidance may avail themselves of Deacon Steve Boatwright’s and Pastor Nate Toso’s assistance.
Invite your friends and family. All are welcome.
And don’t worry … the service and song are so simple, you won’t need a program. The key is to come and pray with others. And let the Spirit move you. Into unity.
The Rev. Paul Jarvis is the lead pastor at Church of St. Joseph in Rosemount. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.