Monday, May 9, 2016

Jesus' yearning for unity has to be our shared yearning too.

In his Last Supper discourse in John’s gospel, he has Jesus give a very long and intimate discourse that stretches three chapters (15 through 17), culminating in an earnest and heartfelt prayer of Jesus for worldly unity.  It’s perhaps rather easily overlooked, but as with many other passages of Sacred Scripture, it is when we take time to mull over, ponder and thus enter into the depths of its marrow that we come away with its rich truth.

If the very heart of God is the unity that flows between the Father and the Son, (which is the Holy Spirit), then it becomes very clear that anything that splits, divides and separates is its very antithesis.  Any call to division becomes opposite and antipathetic to the very nature of the Holy Spirit.  Evil and sin will always have this as its agenda in our world and in our lives, and any call to separation and disconnection will have some roots and link to evil.  Goodness and the call to holiness is at the heart of community (read common-unity) that the vast majority of humanity seeks to attain and achieve, albeit with many obstacles and challenges. 

Much as we tend to long for unity in community, we also find ourselves strangely dissatisfied with what we have.  It is a common lament that even in church groups, social units like family and ethnic bonds and workplaces, there is a struggle to do this well, and the result is that many simply give up.

Perhaps the root of the problem is the fact that too many of us have perfectionist ideals, even when it comes to unity and community.  Perfection, after all, is often cited as the enemy of the good.  What we over idealize and set as goals for ourselves sometimes works against us in our journey and endeavors to make something meaningful work.  I wonder if it is precisely because we have false notions of what should be, that we cave in when they do not materialize.  But the unity that Christ makes references to isn’t a destination as much as it is a journey.  It is not an end point but a process as well.  And this requires addressing in our lives what is real, what is most essential and what is basic.  This doesn’t come easily, but isn’t that also true of any pursuit of unity and oneness that has gravitas and weightiness?  Marriages, family, church and friendship are prime examples of these and we want them to last.  We become lesser as human beings when we trivialize any of them.

Things that are superficial are instead fleeting, often because there isn’t an investment in what is essential and deep.  And so we settle for what momentarily thrills and excites, what purports to take away the trouble of getting into deep issues and what constitutes core values.  Perhaps this explains why the TV, People Magazine, the social media and chugging down intoxicants at watering holes are the preferred choices rather than deep-dialogue and bond-forging connections at the level of the heart, and the painful truth is that while there are hoards of people at singles bars all over the world, these very places ironically remain filled with loneliness and isolation at the end of the day.

True bonds and unity take time and require an investment.  So does love.  Alongside the call to love in the way that the Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son is also the call to sacrifice, selflessness and generosity.  Connections need forging, and the more one cherishes these God-given connections in life, and honours the fact that connectedness is never deserved but a work of grace, the more one realizes that the sacrifice it takes to nurture, foster and maintain these bonds makes it worth the effort.

I have just returned to Singapore after being away for a couple of weeks where I spent time simply being with the family of my stem cell donor in a suburb of Chicago, nearly 15,000km away.  I not only bonded with them in a meaningful way, but was also privileged to enter into their community of their connectedness and unity in God.  While it may appear to be a vacation, in truth, it was far more than that.  It was a precious time of re-connection, of strengthening an already strong bond, and in the light of Jesus’ last supper discourse, it was also a time spent in forging a oneness given by God. 

Perhaps what we need from time to time is a reminder to appreciate anew the kinds of relationships that God has given us in this life.  I hear so many confessions that reveal that there is very little appreciation of the relationships that so many of us are given and this includes both family and the wider context of community.  These days leading up to the celebration of Pentecost should be a time to re-appreciate and hold these opportunities of godliness anew.  If Jesus was so clear in his ache for unity in his discourse before his death, should we not also have a similar hunger and yearning?   

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