A Life Together

By one of those happy coincides (or by synchronicity), the weekend after my first real experience of community after several years, I find myself reading Bishop Seraphim Sigrist's 'a life together: Wisdom of Community from the Christian East'.  http://www.amazon.com/Life-Together-Wisdom-Community-Christian/dp/1557258007/ref=cm_cr-mr-title 

It is an extended meditation on the word: 'sobornost' that appeared, as he writes, newly minted in nineteenth century Russia and appears virtually untranslatable precisely because, as the Bishop suggests, it indicates a future hope yet to be realized and yet that lures us on.

It was a word coined by that strand of thought called "Slavophil' that wished to demarcate a place of community that navigates between the twin poles of 'individualism' and 'collectivism'. It is a vision of community that delights in the difference of persons and sees in their journeying together those differences as complementary, weaving a unity in which they all will live fulfilled.

The book is divided into four principle parts: an exploration of 'sobernost' as a vision that exists being made real in a pilgrimage together; and, three ways of practicing the vision - in adopting new ways of seeing, in a deepened understanding of complementarity and in a renewed sense of mission as conversation.

In each section, written in an engaging, simple yet profound manner, you are invited to think anew about the meaning of community and church.

My favourite section, to which I will return, is the '30' brief, linked chapters on complementarity. Here there is a wonderful suggestion that the belief-sets we inhabit, necessary as they may be, are what I would call enterprises after a deeper, more inclusive truth. It is different to be a Catholic than to be and believe as a Protestant but each form of life rather than presenting an inviolable boundary can be seen as a different aspect of the same face - the face of Christ in whose gaze all perspectives, all seeing is reconciled. As the Bishop's friend, Andrey Cherniak, notes we need two ears to know which direction a sound comes from. We may favour an ear in our life but if we are to discern a fullness of listening, we will have to lean on the hearing of others.

Throughout the book, there is a delightful, urgent sense of the church as a work in progress moving into an unknown but invited future, shaped by our learning of what it means to be a unity in diversity, unique persons shaping a dance in which their reality as God's friends, and friends to one another, is ever more deeply revealed.

His words arrest you to think more deeply and see more clearly towards a life that walks to meet you. He quotes with approval the words of Fr Bede Griffiths on his last day, 'to serve the Christ who is growing' -and whose eyes and hands, as a saint reminds us, are our own.

At one level it is a place removed from here to spending a week at Schumacher college. It is, after all, not a religious community (nor a Christian one), it is a place of residential education; and, yet consciously it has taken on the mantle of being a community that lives a way of life meant to help exemplify a real present and a hoped for future.

I could see both the delights and tensions of this, real to any community, but it carried the marks of any genuine attempt: a regard for hospitality, a process for listening and a sense of humour!

Both Bishop Seraphim's book and Schumacher capture beautifully a sense of community as a work in progress evolving to a hoped for deeper expression of truth. Here are not 'answers' but in shared experience a deepening of the questions whose 'answers' will be a lived truth, only ever partial to the full possibilities of our glory but nonetheless carrying the possibilities of real joy, authentic witness.


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