Towards living with difference and celebrating diversity

At Coventry Cathedral some of us meet together regularly in foyer groups. Foyers (small groups meeting usually in each other’s homes to eat together) were established in the 1960s when the new Cathedral opened, so that members of the community could get to know each other better than is possible at a Sunday service – since you cannot love those you do not know. While Canon Sarah Hills was here the foyers were re-launched specifically as a way of embedding the reconciliation ministry in the life of the congregation. Previously there was a sense that reconciliation was principally the concern of the reconciliation team and mostly had an international focus.

Our group usually meets monthly to eat a bring-and-share meal together and then spend a while on some reconciliation topic. We sometimes use the CCN Thought for the Week as a starter, so planning our recent gathering which took place on the day of the Brexit votes at Westminster, I first considered Jack Slater’s interesting piece ( Jan 18th ) on how we can be reconcilers in a situation where we are partisan. Then, realising that not everyone in our group shares my own passion for politics, I took a step back to consider something fundamental to our engagement in reconciliation in any situation – the state of our own hearts.

At Coventry Cathedral we have recently begun a 6-week Retreat in Daily Life, and as preparation for guiding others on this retreat I spent 6 weeks with Joyce Rupp’s book
Open the Door: A journey to the true self
(Sorin Books, Notre Dame, Indiana 2008), a series of daily reflections and meditations taking us first through the door of our heart to God, opening ourselves to transformation, and finally to considering how the world can be positively affected by our presence. The chapter for Week 6, Day 3: Bringing Respect seems so relevant to seeking to live with difference and celebrate diversity, that it became the focus for our foyer. Here is an extract:

“I want to declare an open-door policy of the heart; it gets wearisome scrutinising everyone through the peephole before sliding the deadbolt free.”

The further we enter our authentic self, the greater the contribution of our presence in the world. Within the confines of our inner sanctuary, fuller love arises and keener awareness grows of how intimately connected we are to all that exists. We become a non-judgemental, listening, caring presence. Rather than engendering fear or animosity in us, the vast diversity of people with whom we engage enlarges our compassion.

The differences we bump into invite us to deliberately be a door of respectful presence. We open the door of our mind and heart to those persons whose ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and other personal traits and beliefs are opposed to or different from ours. By opening the door, we do not give up what we value and hold dear. Rather, our attitude is that of Christ: We look at a deeper level for what unites, instead of what divides. We approach each person with a sense of their innate blessedness.

Creator of all that exists,
Your seeing is wide, deep, and clear.
Turn me toward the unity I have with others.
Touch my heart with your loving vision.
Widen what is too narrow in my view.
I want to value each person’s innate worth.
Help me appreciate the gift of diversity.
I open the door of my heart to you.
I open the door.

Live in harmony with one another ( Rom 15:5)

This, and the Meditation section that accompanied it, was revealing and transforming when preparing for a difficult conversation I had to have with someone. I realized the fear in my heart that lay behind an inclination not to get too close to this person. Through the meditation I began to see them as God sees them, to see their goodness. When it came to the conversation it went better than I could have imagined, drawing us closer to each other. This is reconciliation in action on a personal, every day level.

In our foyer discussion we realized that fear and prejudice about those we do not know are often behind our divisions. When we know someone well we can love the goodness in that person that we see manifest in how they behave to the people around them, and any differences in our opinions about a range of issues can become irrelevant. At a heart level we are connected despite our differences. It’s in our hearts that transformation must come for there to be reconciliation.

So it seems that a Retreat in Daily Life that at first glance might seem to have little to do with reconciliation turns out to be very relevant to the central calling of our Cathedral.

Margaret Lloyd, Member of Coventry Cathedral congregation

CCN Thought for the Week for 1st February – Margaret Lloyd, Coventry Cathedral
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