Saturday, November 6, 2010

Dialogue, charity, and harmony in a season of unison singing...

Dialogue, long before it manifests itself through words, is a union of hearts through a profound harmonization of wills in one accord, which is not necessarily a unison, a uniformity, but a harmony on one identical melody with all the richness of its variations. Dialogue is first of all the silence of someone who knows how to enrich himself by listening and reflecting, and then, the statement of his personal thoughts, respecting those of the other. This dialogue, it is true, takes time. The too hasty forming of one’s opinion, where patience is demanded, is contrary to the spirit of dialogue, because it lacks respect for different opinions often born of experience and wisdom. Charity alone successfully presides in a dialogue. So the common life, which teaches charity also teaches dialogue.

            From the chapter “Community Life,” from Serving God First: Insights on the Rule of St. Benedict, by Dom Sighard Kleiner

Some years ago, I heard from a friend about a parish where all singing in harmony was officially discouraged. The liturgical leadership told the people that singing in harmony destroyed the sense of unity in the worshipping community: unison singing was much preferable in their expert opinion. I found this strangely appropriate to our era, when we so easily confuse unison with unity, diatribe with dialogue, chicanery with charity.

The above passage from Kleiner’s almost 40-year old commentary on the Rule reflects the great difficulty involved in forming and maintaining authentic, Gospel based communities. It turns out that demanding everyone sing in unison is a great deal easier—and more gratifying—than allowing a community to sing in harmony with the melody given to it by God.

The way to respond authentically to the "melody of salvation" rests in a deep appropriation of the charity Kleiner speaks of. There simply is no way to balance the diversity of gifts and experiences in a parish, a monastic community, a diocese, or a national/worldwide body with the “Faith once delivered” outside of profound immersion in (and practice of) the Love of Christ for the Father and for fallen humanity.

And this is where the “institutional” structures of the Church—deeply imbued with secular self-understandings of “rights,” “goals,” and zero-sum decision making—are weakest. Instead of witnessing to the humility of Christ based in the Love of the Holy Trinity, we exhibit strategies of institutional self-preservation and self-justification. Once fear takes over, charity is irrelevant. “Party spirit” and loyalty to “the system” is confused with an honest (if not always easy) harmony. Unity is replaced with unison, and the institution looks for any sign of discontent with the man-made melody of conformity.

The graciousness of God is beyond measure. It transcends both narrow fanaticism and antinomian complacency. In Christ God has brought forth the melody of salvation; this melody alone sings of our freedom to become saints of God, restored to our true identity. Yet, it is not an imposed, fearful song, suppressing our individual reality or character. Rather, it calls forth from us by the action of the Holy Spirit the fullness of who we were created to be. Christ, the melody of God’s Love for Creation, summons from us the perfected harmony of hearts and minds tuned to that Love. No police state is needed. Only those communities of faith which are rooted in that One Great Melody will take the time to listen and discern how to respond lovingly, patiently, and with wisdom. 

Like the moment after the bread is broken at the Eucharist, the dialogue needed for such discernment will be marked first by a silence born of awe and reverence. This is the starting point. From there the faithful community's discernment will be marked both by depth and generosity, because its participants hear the sheer beauty of the great melody, and will want to participate in it, to sing in complete harmony to it, with all their hearts.

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