Our spiritual well-being is as important as our physical well-being. In the past year both of these have been seriously challenged: the COVID-19 pandemic has caused us to be careful about our own health, taking precautions such as washing hands and wearing facemasks and maintaining social distance. Some of us have been ill or have lost someone close to us. Meanwhile the working lives of many have been disrupted and families kept apart, often at huge personal cost. Perhaps it has made us all more anxious about our health and more aware of our vulnerability. At the same time church buildings have been closed and worship has been taking place online. Opportunities to worship and pray together have been seriously curtailed. We may well be feeling a sense of isolation from God as well as our neighbour.
The period of lockdown that we have lived through has caused us to take a step back to think again about our priorities and the things and people that we value, that make our lives whole. The long periods of absence from extended family and friends, and the inability to share a meal together or celebrate a birthday or a wedding, are examples of this.
When it comes to our spiritual life, what is it that is most important for our well-being? As Church life was to a large extent paused for the first time for most people, what does it mean to be part of the one Church, the Body of Christ when all we see of our sisters and brothers are on the screen of a laptop?
When the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity invited the sisters of the Community of Grandchamp in Switzerland to produce the material for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity for 2021 they could not have foreseen the pandemic and its impact. Yet the Sisters of Grandchamp have offered us something uniquely precious: an opportunity to engage with a form of prayer that is both very ancient and yet at the same time so apposite for our times. The ancient rhythm of prayer found in many religious orders and their traditions teach us that when we pray, we pray not just on our own or with those who share the same physical space, but with the whole Church, the Body of Christ, of Christians in other places and in different times.
This rhythm of prayer, with its traditional forms of structure, hymns and psalms and perhaps most importantly, silence, might well be an important gift from the ancient Church to the Church of today struggling with pandemics and lockdowns and more widely with some of the serious challenges that our world faces, most particularly climate change, racism and poverty. This tradition of prayer and spirituality, despite the things that hurt and separate us, invites us into shared prayer and silence together. Surely a most precious gift in troubled times. Come with us this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and enter into a place of community and blessing. Simply “be” in this place and be carried by the prayer and the reality that it is God, in Christ and through the Holy Spirit, who carries us and accompanies us. Always.
Bob Fyffe, General Secretary, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 2021 has been prepared by the Monastic Community of Grandchamp in Switzerland. The theme that was chosen, “Abide in my love and you shall bear much fruit”, is based on John 15:1-17 and expresses Grandchamp Community’s vocation to prayer, reconciliation and unity in the Church and the human family.
The Grandchamp Community has its origins in Europe in the 1930s, when a group of women of the Reformed tradition sought to rediscover the importance of silence and listening to the Word of God. Today the community has fifty sisters, all women from different generations, Church traditions, countries and continents. In their diversity the sisters are a living parable of communion. They remain faithful to a life of prayer, life in community and the welcoming of guests. The sisters share the grace of their monastic life with visitors and volunteers who go to Grandchamp for a time of retreat, silence, healing or in search of meaning.
In producing the material for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity for 2021, the sisters are inviting churches across the world to enter into their tradition of prayer and silence that is rooted in the ancient traditions of the Church catholic.
Jesus said to the disciples,
“abide in my love”
(Jn 15:9). He abides in the love of the Father (Jn 15:10) and desires nothing other than to share this love with us:
“I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (Jn 15:15b). Grafted into the vine, which is Jesus himself, the Father becomes our vinedresser who prunes us to make us grow. This describes what happens in prayer. The Father is the centre of our lives, who centres our lives. He prunes us and makes us whole, and whole human beings give glory to the Father.
Abiding in Christ is an inner attitude that takes root in us over time. It demands space to grow. It can be overtaken by the struggle for the necessities of life and it is threatened by the distractions, noise, activity and the challenges of life.
We live in a time that is both troubling and magnificent, an often dangerous time where we are challenged by pandemics, wars, violence, poverty, racism and climate change. Yet as Christians seeking reconciliation, justice and peace, we also know the full value of a spiritual life, have an immense responsibility and must realize it, unite and help each other create forces of calmness, refuges of peace, vital centres where the silence of people calls on the creative word of God. It is a question of life and death.
Though we, as Christians, abide in the love of Christ, we also live in a creation that groans as
it waits to be set free (cf. Romans 8). In the world we witness the evils of suffering and conflict. Through solidarity with those who suffer we allow the love of Christ to flow through us. The paschal mystery bears fruit in us when we offer love to our brothers and sisters and nurture hope in the world.
Spirituality and solidarity are inseparably linked. Abiding in Christ, we receive the strength and wisdom to act against structures of injustice and oppression, to fully recognize ourselves as brothers and sisters in humanity, and to be creators of a new way of living, with respect for and communion with all of creation.
The summary of the rule of life that the sisters of Grandchamp recite together each morning begins with the words “pray and work that God may reign”. Prayer and everyday life are not two separate realities but are meant to be united. All that we experience is meant to become an encounter with God.