My work is listening to people, and I love doing it. Sometimes it is painful though, as I listen to stories of loss and grief. Over the past months, I have heard many stories of divisions within families and between friends:
"I don't know how we'll do Thanksgiving this year without fighting about politics. Maybe we should skip it altogether." "I decided we won't have our week at the beach next year since the families are so different about Covid. We always go to the beach together!" "If I have to wear a mask, I won't return to church." "Unless we all wear masks, I won't return to church." "My son is immune-compromised and nobody wears a mask at work. I try to stay away from the others." "We used to be so close but now. . . They helped so much when my parents died. I miss going out for lunch together."
There is a deep grief when families are divided, and when churches and communities are as well. During these strife-filled times, it is easy to take sides. Sometimes people feel that those on the other side aren’t trustworthy, or are even downright dangerous. Yet a few years ago, these same people would have vacationed together, worshipped together, and enjoyed each other’s company. What a loss this is! Grieving, I wrote these words:
The chasm yawns deepest where love has been, where love lies still. I watch as the pain of the breech sunders them anew, and I wonder, "What then can love do? Can it bridge this gap?"
In last month’s Garden of the Spirit post, I wrote about the Georgian villages in the Caucasus mountains, and how people there had bonded through centuries of shared music. In contrast, within our country, it seems right now that our bonds are weakened, and we are more sharply separated. There is a special kind of painful grief and even anger when those whom we love, people we thought we knew well, and with whom we shared major life experiences – these people end up on the other side of the chasm.
Can love bridge the gap? I remembered poet Edwin Markham’s lines from “Outwitted.” He drew a circle that shut me out. . . . But Love and I had the wit to win. We drew a circle that took him in.”
How can love help us draw an inclusive circle? Love is a potent force, tough and persistent. Love is also creative and imaginative. When we decide to keep on loving, we need to call on our creativity to find new ways to connect, and then we need to persist in our efforts.
So how do we let others know that they are still within our circle, that we still care about them in spite of our differences? Relationships are unique, and there is no clear one-size-fits-all formula. But here are a couple of suggestions.
First, remember all that you hold in common, all the shared interests. Focus on these things. Despite our fierce differences, we share human joys and hopes, fears and griefs. Perhaps you have children or grandchildren to talk about. Perhaps living in the same neighborhood brings common experiences. Show up with that casserole or tin of cookies, not only in a crisis, but on ordinary days, too. Perhaps you’ll share your fears about hurricanes or your delight in autumn colors. Shared faith can encircle both of you even if masks are an issue. Be creative–and persist!
Second, when the conversations between you and your friend or relative turn to painful areas, it is essential to listen. Don’t frown or interrupt; just listen and try to understand. (That can be a challenge, but I have found it easier when I look at the person and remember what we have in common.) You can ask questions and try to find any points where you agree. As valuable as it is to listen and acknowledge the beliefs of the other person, it is also important to say “I don’t see it that way.” Then one can ask, “Do you want to hear how I see it?” The differences between you will probably remain, but you and Love have drawn a larger circle that includes you both.
When we look at those whose beliefs oppose our own and we know they are within the grand circle of God’s Love, we can be grateful. When we imagine how the God of Love is looking at both of us with tenderness, something in us may heal. There is a healing power in the act of inclusion – for those on both sides of the gap. May we be open to such healing. May we persist in our loving.
If this writing has spoken to you, please share it with another.