• Seasons of the Spirit: Unity in Diversity, A Spiritual Guide

    We come into this summer seeking release and rest. But our newspapers and social media are overflowing with stories of abhorrent actions filled with loathing and wrath. The ecological reality of our planet reflects the truth that we cannot harm or exclude any part of it without having a destructive effect upon the whole. How are we to comport ourselves in the midst of such a time of division and distress?

    As Christians we have had Scriptures and spiritual guidance in these matters for 2000 years. These wise energies call upon us to seek ways to understand more fully the reality that we are “one body,” created by a loving Creator who blesses each part of that body with a unique and important role in the functioning of the whole. We have witnessed in Pentecost the coming of the Sprit to each and every one of those gathered. Each was blessed with the flame of the Spirit. Each and every one, although extremely diverse and from all parts of the earth, could “understand” each other. This is the vision that all are included in God’s great love. It demonstrates Christ’s promise to send a Comforter—the Holy Spirit—to dwell within each person.

    A central metaphor in our Christian life is that we are one body with many members. The diversity of the parts is great. While each is to be able to value its unique identity, it also understands and honors the unity of the body that would be incomplete without each part. We read in 1 Corinthians 12:

    “Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body…. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?… The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”….But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior members, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”

    As Christians, we are called to welcome and work through our differences. This is a difficult task as we struggle to live together in community. In our disagreements over values, we are asked to examine what we believe to be true, right, and important. We are called to have an open heart while listening to what others believe to be true, right, and important. In our diversity of experience, we are challenged to look beyond where life is most familiar to us and allow for other experiences to also inform us. In our divisions born of injury, we acknowledge imbalances of power and feelings of victimization that arise without being consumed by them.

    This can cause us to fear the loss of our “essential” selves. Thus we struggle to release each of these identities and understand them as not the primary one in our reality. To “lose our lives in order to find our life,” we must be willing to be transformed into people who have released the temptation of omnipotence, omniscience, and immortality of our individual identities in order to recognize our deeper perspectives as part of a whole. Our work is to see ourselves as first “beloved of God” and then be open to transformation in the Spirit. We need to hold as our primary identity our intimacy with God whose love and connection we value over all else. This involves dismantling the lesser identities (and gods) that beckon to be our primary concerns.

    God’s unconditional love and acceptance of us is the central identity which is given by our very birth and being. But we do not need to exploit this love for us by withholding that love from any others. It is our given birthright. This gives us the courage to empty ourselves and be open for loving and service, needing neither to self-justify or self-condemn, but simply to live from the well-spring of love God has given to us. It is in this fullness of grace that we receive our true identity. Here we are allowed to claim our differences, as long as we don’t let our differences claim us. For the first claim upon us is God’s great love and acceptance from which all of our choices flow. We are constantly being renewed by this foundation of love that ushers forth from God to us. Here we find the power to offer each other the love and forgiving grace that is first given to us. Here we live out the continual rejoicing, the gentleness born of God’s nearness, the calm and thankful spirit of peace that God offers us.

    We pray that God will grant us the capacity to make our lives a devotion to the energies of goodness, care, compassion, and connection that God has first shown us. We pray that through our times of discernment, we are opened from the smallness of heart, prejudice of mind and the limits of our knowledge that keep us chained to our smaller identities and unwilling to be released into our larger unity that is offered in God’s dreams for us as the Body of God’s creation. May God grant us the vision to see the larger unity that holds together all of our diversity and brings us to the place of peace. May God help us understand with empathy that we are one people on one little planet, trying to learn to love and respect life, to love ourselves as God would love us and to be inspired to love one another, as we have been inspired by Christ. May summer offer times of reflective prayer and kind and empathic action to repair divisions in our lives.

    —Rev. Dr. Ken Orth, Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Direction Affiliate, First Congregational church of Winchester, (UCC)  and Healing Worship Minister, Old South Church in Boston, (UCC)

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