It is only Sunday morning, and the conference doesn’t end ‘til tonight, but already people are leaving. Like the Liturgy, it is very much “the Mass has ended, go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” There is a strong sense of having walked together, having learned much about each other. But now begins the harder work of taking the story back home to the people who were not part of the “process” and want results. Bishops must find a way to get people to talk to each other, and to engage with all the bishops who were not at Lambeth.
One bishop (unnamed) was quoted on the TV news as characterizing the conference as a “talkfest,” as if that were nothing. Watching the majority of the bishops engage in the process and listening to the way they interacted outside their group sessions, I would say something incredibly important happened. Again to cite my friendly author Alain de Botton, writing “On the Sublime” in his book The Art of Travel (he is paraphrasing the words and attitude of God speaking in Job): “Do not be surprised that things have not gone your way…the universe is greater than you. Do not be surprised that you do not understand why they have not gone your way, for you cannot fathom the logic of the universe. See how small you are next to the mountains. Accept what is bigger than you and what you do not understand. The world may appear illogical to you, but it does not follow that it is illogical per se. Our lives are not the measure of all things: consider sublime places for a reminder of human insignificance and frailty.” We have all been part of something much larger than our orders, parishes, dioceses or church provinces. All of us have had to develop a larger perspective than we came with. It has been bewildering at times, annoying (if not enraging) at times, and there have been times of incomparable sweetness in prayer, conversation, (and for me) long lovely runs through the English countryside. It amounts to a great deal.
We cannot measure how you heal
or answer every sufferer’s prayer,
yet we believe your grace responds
where faith and doubt unite to care.
Your hands, though bloodied on the cross,
survive to hold and heal and warn,
to carry all through death to life
and cradle children yet unborn.
The pain that will not go away,
The guilt that clings from things long past,
The fear of what the future holds,
are present as if meant to last.
But present too is love which tends
The hurt we never hoped to find,
The private agonies inside,
The memories that haunt the mind.
So some have come who need your help
And some have come to make amends
As hands which shaped and saved the world
Are present in the touch of friends.
Lord, let your Spirit meet us here
To mend the body, mind, and soul,
To disentangle peace from pain
And make your broken people whole.
Words: John L. Bell (b. 1949) and Graham Maule (b. 1958)
Tune The Banks o’Doon (Ye Banks and Braes) Scottish folk melody harmonized by John L. Bell.