Worship with the other side

December 5, 2011

For more commentary on this week's readings, see the Reflections on the Lectionary page, which
includes Goettler's current Living by the Word column as well as past magazine
and blog content. For full-text access to all articles, subscribe to the
Century.

In October, a
newly formed Right to Life group sponsored a week-long conference, entitled
"Abortion and Feminism," on the campus of Yale Divinity School. The
pro-choice posters posted by the Students for Reproductive Justice made it
clear that seminarians are not of one mind on the issue.

I watched the
rising tensions with great interest. A theologically grounded pro-choice
position has long been of great importance to me, an important tenet of the
Reformed theology that I hold dear. I was glad to see students who share my
perspective lifting their voices in the public realm.

But just when
the tension around these disagreements seemed most fierce, I entered the chapel
one morning for the 10:30 a.m. worship service. A Taizé service had been planned for the day, and
the congregational singing had begun by the time I arrived. All of the chairs
in the space had been removed, replaced by long, blue floor cushions. And
there, across the chapel from where I was seated, sat the leaders of the two
opposing sides in the abortion debate, both with eyes closed, both moved by the
Taize chant that filled the sanctuary.

I don't know if
they talked together after the service. But it was clear to me that when our
eyes and our hearts are focused on the holy in our midst, we lower our defenses
a bit. Perhaps we share no more than a song. And perhaps, a bit more tolerance
and some sense of mutuality begins to inform our spirits.

As I say in my Century lectionary column for this week, John the Baptist is most troubling to those who imagine that they alone are the rightful bearers of the light. If Advent is
truly a time of preparing to celebrate the birth of God made flesh in Jesus,
then these must be days to renew our willingness to be vulnerable to all of the
ways that God is speaking in our lives. Even if it just means sitting at the
side of someone who we think has got it all wrong. Even if it just means 30
minutes of shared prayer.