Early in our marriage, I thought it would be wise to connect with a faith community other than and in addition to the church where my husband and I were known leaders. Mostly, it was for my own spiritual health, but it also became a fascinating study of people and their faith journeys. In retrospect, I found a wider embrace.
It was interesting to see the psychological similarities in the face of theological differences. As the years progressed, I became sensitive to how often a person or group seeks to feel superior by putting another down and how words divide us further from each other than we might actually be.
In my twenties, I joined a Bible study. The group had two rules that stand out to me, even today, 1) seek answers from the Holy Spirit, before consulting commentaries 2) refrain from sharing where you go to church or your church background.
Weekly, we studied Christian scriptures and prayed together. Once a month, for fellowship we gathered around a table to share our stories and to enjoy lunch. As individuals arrived for the last luncheon of the year, one woman uncharacteristically began berating a particular faith tradition. The leader of our group quickly stepped in and walked her to another room.
Our leader knew what the rest of us did not. A woman in our group worshipped regularly in the faith tradition under scrutiny. Of course, the vocal woman came back and apologized profusely, but not before our circle had experienced a temporary break. With this new knowledge, most in the group were beyond surprised, in fact, completely dumfounded.
Without ever mentioning our places of worship, we had become a communing body. Together we had deepened our faith and now we had an opportunity to lengthen our arms.
It was a profound lesson in how we allow our assumptions to screen out those who are unlike us, rather than taking time to discern the other’s heart. Discernment requires patience to wait for insights to arise and courage to peel through the baggage of supporting judgments. Eventually though, we open to a wider embrace.