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Communion of life

So he [Jesus] came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God. (Eph 2:17-22)

A few years ago, I stumbled across the work of Eric Whitacre, an innovative composer who was working with something he called a “virtual choir”: a group of singers, drawn from many corners of the world, who each sang a part of his music in the privacy of their own home or studio, after which Whitacre would fuse them together with electronic artistry into an extraordinary performance. Today, at this time of Covid, we are becoming accustomed to seeing music made this way, but at the time, Whitacre’s work was revolutionary. When I first heard and saw it, it evoked for me the Communion of Saints: the mystical body of all the faithful, each performing our own part in the work of Christ, unseen by most of the others, and yet directed and held together by the Spirit of God.

I love that invisible fellowship; it both inspires me to keep offering what I have where I am, and reminds me that it’s not all up to me. That in the mercy of God, there are thousands — tens of thousands — of others, all doing what they can to heal this world and lift it further into the light. That common effort is made visible in congregations, and perhaps even more in monasteries, where the cook and the dishwasher and the gardener are appointed with the same care as the treasurer and the choirmaster and the abbot. Each person’s gifts are weighed, cultivated, and put to use.

For most of Christian history, it has been customary to think of the Communion in human terms, but, of course, we are not the only actors on God’s stage. And if it is true that theology traditionally teaches that only human beings have souls (something which seems a bit dubious to those of us who have lived with dogs or cats or horses or elephants), still, our human fellowship depends upon the integrated working of a much wider circle of life: the biosphere in all its plenty. 

That biosphere is not doing so well right now, and we human beings are struggling to adapt our ways to allow for a different kind of flourishing. But you have only to read the account of creation in Genesis 1, or the details of building the Tabernacle in the Wilderness (Exodus 25-27), or the many times Jesus draws upon the natural world in his teaching (consider the lilies, the birds), to see that our God is a god who cares for the smallest details in creation. A god who delights in beauty, in intricacy, in all the intertwined details of life. And so we, who seek to follow in his way, must tend this earth, this beautiful gift we have been given.

Yesterday was International Biodiversity Day; today we are hosting an online conference at the Cathedral. You can join us here:

But learning is only the first step. Our God calls us not only to learn, but to act: love is always a verb.

— Deborah Meister

image: Frank Lloyd Wright, Falling Water:

And: our choir in virtual form.



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