My friends and I love playing the game Jungle Speed. In essence it’s a game of snap, just that the cards are a bit more complex and when you ‘snap’ with someone, you race to be the first to grab a piece of wood from the middle of the table. The tricky thing about Jungle Speed is that there are lots of cards that look the same, but have a very tiny difference, and there are penalties for making a grab for the piece of wood in error. When someone does this, my friends and I have a habit of (rather annoyingly) pointing out how the cards are “The same, but different” in a very patronising tone. We think we’re funny (unless of course we are on the receiving end). But since someone pointed out that we have this game in our common room, I’ve been thinking about how this game summarises my first few days at the Community of St Anselm.
On the face of things, we look very different. Between the fifteen of us us we represent nine different nations and five continents. We also represent a number of different Christian traditions/denominations, are different ages and gender and we will be living together in close community for the next 10 months. What struck me, even in the first twenty four hours, is how much we have in common— from the trivial to the meaningful. For example:
• My Indian roommate stating that her favourite TV shows were Vikings and Game of Thrones – these happen to be high up on my list too (please keep your disapproval to yourself).
• A very early discussion in the girls’ cottage highlighted similar experiences and feelings about the way singleness is treated within the church.
• Sharing a sense of humour as we cried with laughter over someone guessing everyone else’s ages (you had to be there, but trust me it was funny).
• Nobody quite being sure what constitutes ‘silence’ in the context of getting ready in the morning, having breakfast together, doing practical chores and personal prayers. If you speak to yourself in an empty room- is that silence?! One for the philosophers to work out.
• A fairly universal need for good coffee every once in a while.
There have been more examples but I won’t bore you with them, but one key commonality between us is that all of our paths, which started in and have travelled through many different places, have collided this year. We have all been brought to the same place at the same time. Our onward paths will look very different, but for one year we will journey together for the same purpose: to set ourselves apart in order to connect on a deeper level with our mutual Creator. We have all shared how, in different ways and for different reasons, we all want to deepen our faith. And so here is most important aspect of sameness: we are all children of the same God. Despite our different birth places, cultural experiences and worship styles, we all believe in Jesus.
Every day we have three services in the crypt and our lunchtime service is communion, where we celebrate the uniting belief of all Christians: Jesus’ death and resurrection. Just before receive the bread and the wine, we all say these words together:
“Though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in one bread.”
For me this statement at this point in our day is both a helpful reminder and a beautiful picture of the way we are united through our faith, and that our differences only serve to reflect the creativity of God and the many mysteries that are to be discovered in Him.
We can go from having strong disagreements on theological, pastoral and practical issues, but still unite as children of the same Heavenly Father. I anticipate that this year we will be learning (through trial and inevitable error) how to explore difference in a respectful, loving and peaceful way that doesn’t lead to division. We can enjoy learning about and celebrating each others’ differences because we remember at the same time how we are the same. As the human race struggles to live in unity and as the church struggles to lead by example in this, it strikes me that perhaps everyone should live in a multi-cultural monastic community for a while. Or, at the very least, play a game of Jungle Speed every now and then.