St. Paul’s hosts a Sudanese mission congregation every Sunday at 1pm. Their priest, John, comes in, and leads worship for them every week, after most of us have left. I pass them in the halls as they enter, and we say hello. But normally, for the congregations, the most contact we have with each other is to wonder idly how an Arabic Bible ended up in our pew.
But in the last months, the world has watched as the newly formed nation of South Sudan has been ripped apart by violence, in what feels like a bad replay of the Sudanese civil war of the 1990s. For our Sudanese congregation here, the violence was happening to brothers, sisters, parents, neighbors. Everyone they’d left behind in South Sudan to come here. Pastor John would call the office, with accounts of late-night phone calls from South Sudan: people heard from, and people still missing.
It’s been our practice to unite the two congregations for the late Christmas Eve service. This year it seemed to me to be especially appropriate, as we traded song verses and prayers, back and forth, English and Dinka. Fr. Stan, Pastor John, and I stood side by side behind the altar at the consecration, singing the sanctus and the Lord’s Prayer in our own varied languages, as we asked the Holy Spirit to come among us.
The vastness of nature as a barometer of God’s transcendence I’ve always thought was overrated. Nature is lovely, very big, but also impersonal. Nature doesn’t convince me of God.
What always impresses me with God’s vastness is people.
In our complexity, and our infinite diversity, and all the myriad ways we come up with to damage ourselves and creation.
And all the myriad ways we come up with to do better, and be utterly amazing.
So here we all of us were, on Christmas, all together in all our variedness, praying for Kansas City, and Bor, for those killed and those missing, and those doing the fighting. For the refugees, and the politicians. For everyone here and everyone there. Such a rising chorus of prayer.
And at the heart of all of those prayers–a little helpless Divine Infant, who came to share in our vast, marvelous human diversity.