Tuesday, June 13, 2017

the healing kind of the sickness

Hayley said this place gets under your skin, which sounds slightly pathogenic (yet true).
Raanan said that there's a name for it—they call it Tanturitis.
This place is not heaven on earth, but it's got a magic that's just a few shades short of eschaton.

The magic of Tantur Ecumenical Institute is not easily diagnosed or dissected. Its inescapable presence yet ineffable origin make Tantur's atmosphere endlessly enticing. Tantur is a place which feels larger on the inside, because of the abundance of mystery within its walls, beckoning to be plumbed.

In part, I believe, the magic of Tantur springs from the immense right which every person possess in being here: the elderly couple, the pastors on sabbatical, the visiting scholars, the rabbinic student, the group of undergrads, the staff members of various organizations housed here at Tantur itself, the fourth grader practicing piano: each of them belongs here just as much as the other. There is a deep and gracious humility in recognizing the sacredness of each encounter with every community member. Any person can sit down next to you at a meal, and your conversation feels completely horizontal, there is no slant of inequality, even with the ten-year-old. This sort of humility is rare, yet is endemic to Tantur, providing the bedrock for its seemingly innate radical inclusion.

Tantur is, of course, not perfect. There is disagreement, there is not one single vision always. But, at least I have found here, divisions do not overwhelm the experience of the unity. There is still union, even in discord, and there is still acceptance, and more than a facile acceptance—celebration—of difference. (Not perfectly, however. We are so trained to disagree with difference its difficult sometimes to celebrate it. But perhaps this is only one of many occupational hazards for people trafficking in Ultimate Concern.)  Fellow pilgrims can easily annoy you; you tire of them, they are irked by you. But you still walk together. I think that is what Church means.

The magic of Tantur—which, perhaps I should more accurately name grace—is precisely in this miraculous journeying together. Tantur is a diverse collections of pilgrims, each with very different roads and a variety of maps and atlases by which they navigate. But the mystery of this ever-expanding space seems to upholds all of them. There is enough support to go around, enough room for all to meet.

I cannot help but contrast Tantur with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is a poignant architectural incarnation of the bitter and oh-so-human divisions which mark this human institution which springs from faith's central mystery. It is a church with hermetically sealed traditions, which only meet when shooing the others—made into very much Other—off their turf. It is a portrait of the Church which hurts to see, but it rings true. So much of my time here, I have been reflecting on our need for the real, for the genuine. Pilgrims come to the Holy Land with the simple question: Is this all true? Did this really happen? and the land meets them with a yes: this did happen. It happened here. The yes just doesn't always look the way we want or imagine.

So for all the dis-ease the Church of the Holy Sepulchre raises within me—annoyance at the boys' club pissing contests, great sadness for the scandal of Christian division—I find its mystery draws me back and back again, because something about that church rings true. Perhaps it is not as it ought to be: that church needs cleaning, repair, and some single, unifying and ordering principle; but its messy, piecemeal blend of traditions, architecture, and weird cavernous spaces sings a broken psalm of praise to the God who sustains it even in its human messiness. It is not right and just, but it is accurate and inescapably real. And I am here not for the reality I want to see, but things as they are. Even if they hurt to look at.

Tantur's grace feels like a salve for that hurt. Indeed, there is a balm in Tantur, a particular grace that answers the Holy Sepulchre's hurt—the grace of community. That's the sort of grace which is infectious, which gets under your skin, which pulls at your heart, demanding you leave your tent pitched here, right here. This must be the sort of grace which ought to fill our Eucharists and Sunday services. Perhaps this is a grace of unity which is the briefest appetizer—a stuttering, stammering, abbreviated articulation—of that final unity when Christ is all-in-all and all are finally, truly one in Christ. Perhaps if the global Church felt this unity, this is what our churches would feel like—we would never want to leave them.

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