Our staff meeting was filled with grumbles before the meeting even officially started. Several people caught wind that Father Scott might be responsible for another prayerful exercise that involved looking into each other’s eyes. The squirming began. I found the sight a bit amusing, but must admit that I didn’t love the idea of looking into another person’s eyes and lingering there for longer than a quick glance.
But as we chanted and prayed, something happened. I remembered a mantra that I adopted a little more than a year ago—if I’m uncomfortable, find the invitation. I rolled my eyes as I realized what the invitation was. I would face my discomfort and commit to looking into everyone’s eyes without looking away, no matter how badly I would want to.
As we moved from person to person offering a sung blessing I was floored by the number of people who tried to maintain eye contact, but whose eyes became increasingly dodgy as they realized that I wasn’t looking away. There was tangible discomfort. It was, to say the least, incredibly awkward, and I’m so glad I did it.
Our topic of conversation that day was unity within diversity and our staff couldn’t help but bring up our country’s current political climate. Who wouldn’t have? It seems impossible, in today’s world, to achieve the lofty goal of fostering unity in such a deeply diverse environment. It’s much easier to join the movement of building fancier and bigger wedges to drive between us as we posture ourselves as having the “right answer”.
In my small group a friend shared an image that stays with him when he considers the way most of us engage politics these days. He said that he used to work with folks who would offer testimony before congress. In some situations those testimonies would be filmed so the person talking would literally be talking to an empty room. That’s what it feels like to him, and I agree. It’s like we are talking into an empty room, worried only about sounding like we are correct and since we are the only ones talking, there’s nothing to stop us from believing that we are.
Celtic spirituality offers us a very different, though far less comfortable way. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, who are believed to have been ancient Celtic people, he speaks of a beautiful way of existing within community. There would be no separation between those who were often seen as hopelessly opposed to each other. Slave and Free. Male and Female. Jew and Greek. Paul affirms the Celtic commitment to dissolve all of those separations in favor of the much deeper truth that holds all of us together—the mystery which Paul refers to as being “In Christ”.
Unity sounds wonderful until we are actually invited to practice it. Then it gets incredibly awkward. This is because unity requires a certain level of vulnerability—a willingness to allow ourselves to be truly seen. Talking into a camera in an empty room is far easier than looking into each other’s eyes, but something incredible happens when we push through the discomfort. We actually begin to see our neighbor, our brother, our mother, our friend, and even our enemy as the human being they are rather than the intangible “side” they represent. And as our friend Father Gregory Boyle likes to say, “It always becomes impossible to demonize someone you know.”
So take a moment and look into the eyes of someone else today. Push through the discomfort. See them and allow them to see you. Unity won’t happen overnight, but the wedges of separation will most certainly begin to fall away.
Ben Edwards is a member of Celtic Way's Board of Directors. Read more about him here.