The Other I

March 22, 2011

A different road

Several years ago I returned to Maryknoll, the motherhouse of the order of nuns to which I belonged for nine years.  I was there to give a talk to current and former Maryknollers about my book The Big Bang to Now.   It’s a book based on current scientific thought and research, including most significantly, Darwin’s theory of evolution.

There were some listening to what I had to say who were made extremely uncomfortable:  Where was the Garden of Eden in all of this?  where, even, was God?

But what, in retrospect, impressed me most was not their confusion.  It was their ability to put it aside.  It was their ability not to dismiss me as a faithless sinner probably careening down the road to hell.  There was a split between what I would now call faith and belief.  The teachings of the Catholic Church did not inform my world view.  But somehow the women there were able to dismiss this.

And I think that has been a characteristic of many Maryknollers from the very beginning.  I myself cannot live as a participant in a community that is overtly committed to a view of the world with which I am fundamentally at odds.  But many of these men and women can.  And do.

I came away after that weekend at Maryknoll feeling that, although it was not my way, there is something there of deep and profound value.  And something that, to some extent, I was perhaps missing.  They trust what they know.  The contradictions between this and standard doctrine may have been a concern, but if something was going to take second place, it was the doctrine, not their conviction that people have a universal right to love and respect.  Whatever the Church’s dogma might say, what drives so many of them is that children should not have to live on the street, that mothers should not have to die giving birth because there is no medical help, that people should not be starving, that young women should not be driven to prostitution because they are bringing in the only income in the family, that learning how to read makes a difference to people’s lives that matters.

I don’t want to turn all Maryknollers into saints.  They aren’t.

But it is often too easy for me to see the flaws and limitations, and to miss the obvious:  that somehow so many of these women seem to have quietly been able to hold onto the most basic of Christian messages.  And that is a message of love and hope and peace.

If one has that, everything else is optional.  And if you don’t have that, one is not a christian.

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