Take a fine Indian silk scarf in your hand. Feel its smooth texture and marvel at the skill of the weaver. Hold it and let me take you on a deepening journey of reconciliation through the Punjab. Travel with me and my fellow pilgrims on our peace pilgrimage.[i]
And let me tell you about our time in the Jallianwala Bagh memorial garden for the massacre of Sikh pro-independence protesters at the hands of the British Army in 1919. Imagine how awkward we felt when a Sikh man drew alongside and asked us where we were from. His response was only words of welcome.
Let me tell about a chance meeting with a Sikh couple in a hotel lift. We talked about being Christians on a pilgrimage and as they got out of the lift they cheerfully said, “well there’s one God after all”.
Let me tell about the meeting at the Golden Temple with Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh (the leader of the Sikhs at the Golden Temple). We asked him “what is one thing we should do to bring about peace”. After a moment of consideration, he replied, “in my view, we should recognise there is only one God”
These conversations were especially poignant in the year of the 70th anniversary of the partition of India when a relatively arbitrary line was drawn on a map to divide a people who didn’t realise they needed to be separated. Villages that once lived harmoniously, took against each other in acts of sectarianism.
This arbitrary line made me think about the borders we might draw in all sorts of contexts. The carefully guarded borders between religions where our different texts and experiences of the divine become our guarded borders. The lines between us and all who we dare call “other”.
What unites all such borders is our desire to dominate and to be better which is a trait we perpetuate with alarming frequency.
But, the three conversations pointed me beyond the signs of division to a deeper understanding by giving me a glimpse into what we can do to overcome division.
Firstly, there was forgiveness. In its truest sense, forgiveness is an act of our will that determines that a past wrong will not define and confine our future. It would have been easy for the gentleman in Jallianwala Bagh to see us as a threat – but instead there was a welcome. The past was not going to define our present or future relationship and a border was overcome.
Secondly, the call to see God as one across different faiths unites us beyond borders. It comes down to letting down our ego to honour divine truth in others and learning to live together without trying to outdo each other.
So back to the scarf. It’s made up of thousands of individual strands woven together. Each is unique and exists in its own right, but it only becomes a scarf when it is woven together with other individual strands. And then they become something much more useful. And each strand ceases to be one on its own. As we wrap the scarf around our neck, we can bend and mould the blanket and each fibre moves with the others to maintain the form of the scarf. No strand takes precedence. The boundary between each strand is blurred and it’s not important what each strand is on its own but what it becomes together.
The silk scarf is a metaphor for reconciliation. We find deep reconciliation when we blur our boundaries and discover that we are all made in the image of God and we can be a better people when we see God in the other: the familiar, the stranger, and the refugee.
The way to blur our boundaries is by following the way of Jesus – the sacrificial love that led him to the cross as the expression of God’s for the world. The love that people of faith are called to follow. For the gospel according to John tells us that Jesus is the way.
As Anna Briggs puts it in her hymn “You call us out to praise you”:
For changing hues and textures
new patterns, still you search
to weave your seamless garment
the fabric of your church
our tattered faith you cherish
reclaim from wear and moth
we praise your name who twine us
the weaver and the cloth.
Reconciliation is like being woven together to find new patterns hues and textures that allow life to come in all it’s glory and fullness.
[i] Christopher was travelling in an ecumenical group of sixteen pilgrims on a “Pilgrimage to India: Christian Witness as a Minority Witness” led by Rev’d Dr Inderjit Bhogal.