Life, Death and Neighbours

Magazine letter for October: A time when we are in the midst of the refurbishment of a church…

Life, Death and Neighbours.

That is I think, a pretty good description of humanity.  We live our life, always aware that it has a beginning and an end.  The art of living a life so fulfilled that at the end of it one can greet ones own death as a life-long companion and happily go on to the next world is a lifelong achievement, one which, I fear, few of us will master.  The description, Life, Death and Neighbours comes, not from a city centre community where everyone lives on top of each other, nor from a small rural community where everyone’s business is known to everyone else.  It comes, rather, from a community where the majority of contact with the outside world is shunned.  A place where people have sought solitude and actively moved away from what we might see as normal human interactions with neighbours.  It comes out of the Desert and derives from a saying by Anthony the Great who is known as the father of modern monasticism.

Our life and our death is with our neighbour.  If we win our brother, [or sister!!] we win God.  If we cause our brother [or sister!!] to stumble, we have sinned against Christ.

Those early pioneers of monasticism in the Egyptian desert and mountains were, perhaps ironically, not looking to flee the contact of others in the way you might expect someone to shut themselves away from the world because they cannot cope with it.  Instead the move into the desert was to find out what church was all about.  They were not convinced that the ordinary churches of their day were a fair representation of what it would be life to be a true follower of Christ and be truly in touch with ones God.

The harsh message of the desert is that in order for us to become true followers of Christ and to be able to dwell in the realm of God, (you might want to call this having a ‘spiritual life’) this wont happen unless we mend our relationships with our brothers and sisters, our neighbours and then sustain them.

I write of this because it is happening in our midst.  The church building in Greenfield is being renovated and the people are in a wilderness of sorts.  Instead of being a time for gloom and despondency, it is a time to heal the wounds between one another, for the people’s relationships to be ‘renovated’ as well.  A time to come closer together as a prayerful group and to look closely at what binds us together and what drives us apart.  It is about winning the neighbour as St. Anthony writes, however this doesn’t mean converting them by beating them about the brow.  It is rather about careful attention to their needs.  We must pay careful attention to the needs of all in our communities, to invite them in gently aware of each others brokenness and willing to grow together.  Only then will the church building be ready to receive us back and only then will we be ready to return to it renewed refreshed for the next stage of our journey.

(With material from the chapter ‘Life, Death and Neighbours’ in ‘Silence and Honey Cakes’ by Rowan Williams)