The relational consequences of October 7Nov 13, 2023
Overhead, suddenly, there was a noisy helicopter. I didn’t look up. Then I noticed that I hadn’t looked up. If I was in a place of terror from the sky, I would have looked up.
The next day a friend and I went for a walk by the beach in Point Lonsdale. He is just back from a meditation pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya where the Buddha had his ‘great awakening’. There was a lot of teaching about breath. Being more aware of our breathing in the gift of life, here and now.
We looked up to people who were just sitting for brunch on their balcony, beside the sunbathed sea.
We were talking about ‘enlightenment’. Family groups nearby were chatting and laughing. Little kids were on scooters and bikes. It was a bit early for icecream. We talked also of our own beloved families.
As we reflected, this was all very peaceful in its ordinariness. We looked up at the sounds of laughter, not war.
That’s what we want for everyone, yes? Peaceful places, full of laughter.
Isn’t this our best yearning?
As it happens, these benign moments coincided with an unexpected meeting with the Oceania leaders of Focolare, a movement dedicated to building unity across any divisions. Since the 1980’s I have been connected in friendship with folk of the Focolare community.
The origin of the Focolare movement was at a war ravaged time like our time in 2023.
The charism for building unity was given to Chiara Lubich and her young female friends as they prayed amidst WW2’s devastating destruction.
Like us now, we see in their lives a moment of choice from which they thereafter lived.
They found meaning and purpose as they lived from that choice to build unity after the sufferings of war.
This movement for unity began in the Roman Catholic Church and became interfaith and for everyone, over time. It’s a movement of universalism compared to tribalism, with the latter’s miserable ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality.
So, there are these wonderful people all over the world who are leading their ordinary lives of family and work with this pure, simple intent to foster unity. The founder of Focolare, Chiara Lubich, spoke to young people of her call and charism to build unity, as she sat in those bombed ruins after WW2.
From that unexpected meeting with the Oceania leaders of Focolare, our interfaith work over many years has gifted us with wonderful friendships. This includes Jewish and Muslim friends who have taught us so much and helped us in our own discipleship of Jesus.
So, we were lamenting the sadness and tiredness we know our faithful friends are feeling. And we know a little of how this has made the flow of normal friendships much more difficult.
Accordingly, we therefore decided to invite our friends who are Jewish and Muslim to a simple afternoon tea in the coming days.
We talked about how this might work for the best.
It would need to be in a place of beauty and safety; be respectful of various dietary and other traditions. And be an invitation with no surprises. One that is clear as to what will happen.
Perhaps, we thought, a version of the Talanoa Dialogue that we know from the Pacific. Would this be helpful we wondered?
We drafted a plan. After refreshments, everyone gathers in a circle. As with our other gatherings in recent days, there is shared silence for prayer and meditation. Then everyone has an opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings from these days since October 7. No one interrupts or is interrupted. When the sharing is completed, there is another period of silence for prayer and meditation. Perhaps then some conversation with the one next to us…perhaps with the whole group.
In the Talanoa Dialogue the focusing questions are ones I know from interfaith work at UNCOP’s, the UN climate change conferences.
They are: Where are we? Where do we want to go? How do we get there?
Our planned afternoon tea with faith friends is because we know there are local difficulties, given all that has happened since October 7.
It assumes we do not want to go on in a condition of hurt and alienation and that we recognise the dangers this poses to social cohesion in Australia and, relatedly, to multi faith harmony.
Our plan is a simple gesture and seems miniscule in relation to the scale of suffering, hate and anger.
But, like the local Peace Prayers and Meditations, it’s that choice to keep offering a possibility for some healing.
Maybe those reading this can see similar possibilities.
And perhaps they can find some solace in a prayer and a diagram to help guide our choices now in peacebuilding. I know the diagram from educator John Hendry’s work.
The International Prayer for Peace is a universal expression of our yearning.