As a member of the Fellowship of St. John, I often return to The Rule of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist (SSJE) for renewal and redirection. The SSJE is an Episcopal Monastery located in Cambridge, MA where I make silent retreats and participate in their daily internet ministry, Brother Give Us A Word. I find there much monastic wisdom that relates to my life today.
Chapter 5 of the Rule is: The Challenges of Life in Community. In it we hear,
Every Christian is called to live in community as a member of the Church. Christ in his wisdom draws each disciple into that particular expression of community which will be the best means of his or her conversion.
The first challenge of community life is to accept whole-heartedly the authority of Christ to call whom he will. Our community is not formed by the natural attraction of like-minded people. We are given to one another by Christ and he calls us to accept one another as we are. By abiding in him we can unite in a mutual love that goes deeper than personal attraction. Mutual acceptance and love call us to value our differences of background, temperament, gifts, personality and style. Only when we recognize them as sources of vitality are we able to let go of competitiveness and jealousy.
We are also called to accept with compassion and humility the particular fragility, complexity and incompleteness of each other. Our diversity and our brokenness mean that tensions and friction are inevitably woven into the fabric of everyday life. They are not to be regarded as signs of failure. Christ uses them for our conversion as we grow in mutual forbearance and learn to let go of the pride that drives us to control and reform our brothers on our own terms.
The Society’s dedication to the fourth gospel draws us to see reflected in it certain values which we especially take to heart as we live in community. In John’s gospel the community of disciples is portrayed as a circle of Christ’s friends, abiding in him in obedience and love, and depending on the Advocate who leads them together into the truth.
As a single person without family, my church has become my community. I am grateful for a body of faithful people who are not all the same in background, temperament, gifts, personality, or style. I need to be more accepting that, “our diversity and our brokenness mean that tensions and friction are inevitably woven into the fabric of everyday life. They are not to be regarded as signs of failure.”
I am reminded that following Christ was never meant to be easy.