franciscan - January 2004
© The Society of Saint Francis, 2003
Sister Helen Julian CSF, Minister Provincial of the First Order Sisters, European Province, writes:
'Join the Franciscans and see the world'? Certainly for a Minister Provincial the annual Ministers' Meetings give an opportunity to do just this. In 2003 we met in New Zealand. It was my first visit to that country (indeed to the southern hemisphere) and I found it fascinating. Having travelled so far I was determined to see something of the country, so arrived early and after a night in Auckland embarked on a five hour bus journey to stay with the Sisters of the Love of God in Opononi.
At first as I watched the passing scenery I thought it was rather like home. As I looked more carefully I realised it wasn't at all. Magpies for example were large black and white birds - so far so familiar. But the pattern of black and white was quite different, they didn't have long tails, and were much bulkier. This experience was repeated many times over the next weeks. Fruit trees in gardens were not apples and plums but grapefruit and lemons. When asked 'how are you?' the normal answer wasn't 'fine' but 'good'. As I got over my jet lag I began to find this stimulating rather than confusing, and was able to resist the temptation to cling to the familiar and filter out what was strange.
On the first morning of our meetings we were welcomed onto the local marae - Kirikiroroa marae, the meeting place for the Maori community in Hamilton. We waited outside until one of the older women came out of the richly carved meeting house and sang to call us in. Slowly we walked across the grass, and, removing our shoes first, entered the house. We sat down opposite the marae members and the welcome ceremony of speeches and songs unfolded. After tea and delicious scones we returned to have the symbolism of the house explained to us, and were taken on a tour of the many social services which are also based on the marae - health services, education, drug rehabilitation.
It was one brief remark which struck me most. The door of the marae, which divided the space inside into the 'home' area and that kept for visitors, is off centre. And it's the larger space which is kept for the guests. 'We want there to be room for everyone' said our guide.
Together with my own initial reaction to the strangeness of the New Zealand landscape, this made me reflect on difference, diversity, and strangeness, how far I welcome it and how far feel I need to defend myself from it.
We heard at our Ministers' Meeting about the rich diversity of Anglican Franciscan life, not just in C/SSF, but in new groups in covenant with us in Korea and Zimbabwe, and in a number of countries of Latin America, where contact is just beginning with several vibrant groups inspired like us by the Franciscan way of being Christian. It's one small opportunity to make ample and welcoming space for the stranger.
But there are of course many more; within our individual lives where we shy away perhaps from God's call to let in the new, within our corporate lives where we can be unwilling to open up and learn from the 'strangers' who come to our doors.
As we begin a new year, perhaps we can resolve to 'see the world' anew through God's eyes. A place of infinite and exciting variety, where choosing to call the stranger into our house, our life, can be stimulating, exciting, and a way of meeting God. f
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