– Br. Michael, ofm
Nine months ago, I became part of an ecumenical prayer group. Our group of four meets online several times a week to pray together. Each gathering is a unique experience and expression of faith. The four of us come from four different Christian denominations and vary in age. This has enhanced our gatherings and the diversity of what it means to be Christian and Church. I think the four of us would each identify as seekers building on ancient traditions, practices and relying upon mystics both near and far, current and of history. We each bring a healthy curiosity to our prayer and dialogue. We also bring favorite authors and theologians who inspire the situations from which we come to prayer. One member is inquisitive, another reminds us of gratitude, and another helps us to linger in the sacred moments of silence. It is indeed rich and bearing fruit.
Nine months in we may not be birthing an ecumenical document or a guide to prayer, but we are birthing a common home for Christians from four walks of life. Together we tune into the Divine Love of our Creator God, the anchoring of our savior Jesus Christ and the continual promptings and nudges of the Holy Spirit.
I have been thinking about this gift of prayer in this group as we begin Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This year the theme is “Abide in my love and you shall bear much fruit” (John 15.5-9).
This theme for Christian Unity is manifested in our prayer group. We abide in the love of Jesus Christ by trusting each other with our stories and inviting him as our common anchor. We abide in love as we voice prayers and concerns not just for each other but for our families, our communities, and our countries. We abide in love as the words of the prayers become balm for our weary hearts and inspiration for the work which is ours to do. When we abide in love, we then indeed bear fruit in the communities in which we live. We bear the fruit of open hearts for those we encounter. We bear the fruit of welcome and hospitality because we have offered it to each other. We bear the fruit of mystical hearts being transformed because the Spirit is binding us together as we bear witness to the divine love of our God at work and present in our lives.
These simple weekly gatherings of prayer are indeed a witness of God’s abiding love, bearing fruit for the kingdom. It also brings to mind the words of Jesus, “that all may be one” (John 17.21). Here we are four people from four different Christian heritages and we our bound together as one. Our common anchor of Jesus Christ makes us one. We don’t see the division of denominations as a hinderance. In fact, our differences have been one of the riches and is where the seed is being planted for more fruit bearing. I can’t help but wonder if this would not be the way to move forward with Christian Unity.
These prayer gatherings have also reminded me of my small rural town where I grew up. Ninety-eight percent of the community was Christian while I was growing up. In my hometown there are three Christian Churches and yes, we all went (and still do) into our own buildings to pray in certain ways on Sundays but yet were able to come together as a community to support each other. During feasts and festivals, burying the dead, supporting the needy, encouraging the youth and value the contributions of each towards the community and coming together at times to pray, mourn and celebrate. Is this not abiding in love? Is this not bearing fruit? If this not being one?
Too often we use Jesus as the dividing factor instead of the common anchor. Jesus isn’t just for me or just for you or just for them. When we do this, we divide Christ instead of building up his body. When we fail to acknowledge this and push our own agenda we fail to abide in love and bear fruit. It is time for us as Christians to appreciate our diverse heritages, to accept what we offer to the encompassing title of Christianity and to build the kingdom together as one with Christ Jesus as our cornerstone (Ephesians 2.20-21). This is the work of abiding in love and the benefits are fruit which will last, will be shared, and will be sustained. It is time… let us be united in the abiding love of Christ Jesus as our world continues to struggle, so together we all “shall bear much fruit.”
Jose Alfonso Sierra
Mateus Campos Felipe