Emmanuel Mbeh mhm
“STRANGERS, RIVALS OR PARTNERS”?
As you listen to a homily, a preacher, a lecture, a movie, a speech…, this feeling stirs up in you and you find yourself pre-occupied rehearsing and composing, as it were, your own homily, talk or speech – not that the one you are listening to or reading is bad irrelevant, but that something else stirs and spurs you into what you really want, search, dream or crave for.
Sandra Schneider’s article, just the title “Theology and Spirituality: Strangers, Rivals or Partners” (just like Ronald Rolheiser's The Restless Heart earlier) sparked off that unquenchable thirst and curiosity in me for nearly a year. I searched and longed to lay hands on that presentation and devour it, as it were; I delayed to get a copy and when I did at last, it felt like the person who craves for a partner, gets married, and soon after the interest and satisfaction quickly wane. Sandra's beautiful reflection was about how religion, theology and spirituality were strangers, rivals or partners to each other, and not why even in religion, theology and spirituality men/women become strangers, rivals or partners to each other – that was the difference, and the precise point where my curiosity lay and continues to lie and wait.
Thus I reflected for a long time why on the one hand these three words inspire me a lot (religion, theology, spirituality) and sit well with me, but strangers, rivals, partners cut me to the quick and rather unnerve me.
My insight, hindsight and foresight are about strangers, rivals, partners in relation to team work and living together in community, in institutes, work places and mission fields. It is particularly applicable to the practical daily living together as priests, religious, general and provincial counsels, episcopal conferences or presbyteria or even the Curia, if I may dare, not to speak of family and relations.
My mind was definitely curious, eager and wild. It is a puzzle I like to awaken to with a deeper awareness and consideration like the psalmist in Ps 73: ‘why the rich are sound and sleek and the poor suffer’. I have seen and heard about priests and religious, not to mention married couples, living together as strangers. I have seen the same, colleagues and confrères living in rivalry. I have equally seen and heard people of same or different religions, theology or spirituality, living, working and relating as partners. The obvious question for those who live as strangers and rivals is: how long will it last? Because for those who live as partners, they taste and pre-empt eternity, for in the words of the psalmist, they are like oil flowing down from the beard of Aaron down to his cheeks; how good, how wonderful. (Psalm 133). Sensitive strangers create relatives or relations but bitter rivals break every bond. Partners and partnership are the ideal working alliance and relationship. People fear strangers, they hate rivals but they respect partnership: those who radiate the perfume of complimentary respectful sensitivity, those who tolerate mediocrity – those who shine in humility by their honest foolishness.
I still long to read and quench my unquenchable thirst for a good reflection that can expound on the reality of strangers in the same community, rivals in mission and religious life and the graceful magic of partners who transcend strange and rival behaviours.
My curiosity mixes with fear to know the reality of priests as strangers and rivals, sisters and nuns as rivals or strangers, monks and bishops, cardinals and popes, superiors and councilors, spouses and parents, foreigners and natives, Muslims and Christians, Catholics and Protestants, psychology and spirituality, charismatics and contemplatives, progressives and conservatives, introverts and extroverts – strangers, rivals and partners, politicians and lawyers…
Why are adages like praise the Lord, Amen, how do you feel, face your shadows, damn it, cheer up, take it easy…. incompatible, strangers, rivals not partners? Why is conflict always inevitable, and worse still, leaves catastrophic wounds?
I wanted and still want to know what causes profound differences between people(s); what makes people of different backgrounds live in rivalry, and unaidable by religion, spirituality or theology. The time honoured conflict and scapegoat mechanism as expounded by René Girard has to be re-explained to me. How realistic and unprecedented is the indispensable disposition of partnership, convenantal relathionship, complementarity and complementarity as opposed to bitter opposition, envy, individualism, rivalry? I wish to learn and know, to comprehend and behold this noble life lesson; perhaps it is the beginning of wisdom, just like the fear of the Lord for me and for my missionary outreach. So help me God, and these His Holy Gospels.
Perhaps (this) Lent is a time not only favourable for conversion and reconciliation as it were, but also for me to face and embrace the reality in and around me, of conflict, of strangers, of rivals and of partners.
Yes strangers, rivals and partners in spirituality and theology, in psychology and religion, in family and culture, in politics and media, in churches and mosques, in parishes and presbyteries, in schools and in market places, in sports and entertainment. Thanks to Sandra Schneider for triggering this debate albeit from an ideological standpoint.
Emmanuel Mbeh mhm