This is my first Presidential Election since coming to the Monastery. I follow politics pretty closely; it’s what I originally went to school to study, and I ran for local office when I was nineteen. It’s an intense interest, and I cannot help but look on the political state of this country right now and feel a great deal of sadness, anger, and confusion. Things seem utterly broken and chaotic, and it seems foolish to think that there’s some quick fix, some reset button we can press to go back to when things were “normal.” Too much rot, too much that was and is wrong about the way we’ve been running our country and our world, has been laid bare.
Our process of discussion this year among the Brothers has provided me both challenge and comfort in this regard. Challenge, because it is often hard and stressful work, and comfort, because the work is doable. One of the phrases that has come out of our discussions has been, “Living with the displeasure of others.” That is, we have given ourselves a platform to speak genuinely about our experiences, desires, and needs, and we have acknowledged that these might not line up with each other, that we will sometimes disagree very strongly with each other, and that it’s acceptable for those things to happen, even if it’s unpleasant.
This is not license to say whatever we want without consequences. We are not speaking harshly, then hiding behind a justification of “brutal honesty,” as if brutality might ever be a virtue. We are coming together and acknowledging our differences, and figuring out how to continue to be a community together. Nor is this an exercise in mushy or lukewarm compromise. Compromise is sometimes an option, but at other times, one viewpoint will win out over others, or no viewpoints will win out, and we will experience the tension that comes from recognizing that we are not all on the same page. And yet, we continue to be a community.
So much about our political, economic, and social systems has come together, deliberately or not, to erode the common experience of belonging to a community. This leads to a deep longing, an unmet need that is readily filled by all manner of pseudo-community, to the deep detriment of our common life. The experience of life together in the Monastery, heightened by the newfound isolation of our world’s present sickness, has highlighted for me what constitutes real community. It’s not agreement. It’s not similarity of personality, mutual interests and hobbies. Those can be wonderful, but in the words of Christ, in whom we find our eternal communion, “…if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”
In this process of discussion, I am learning how to love without agreement. I am learning to trust in the reality of commitment. Trees plant roots deep in the soil and stay alive even in the dry seasons. Houses are built on strong foundations and weather the storm. The cross stands, and the world turns. So too do we, I’m learning, abide in the One who will not perish, and even in the midst of chaos, continue to abide.