I had a visit from Jehovah’s witnesses recently. They go in pairs, especially for “tougher”, Bible-loving cases like me (I had given a Scripture-related “homework” to one of them after our first chat on the doorstep. So this time she turned up fortified with a Greek-speaking help from her fellow believers.). The conversation was respectful and, with my probing, even personal stories got shared. Almost two hours later my guests departed with more questions than answers, but with thanks and broad smiles too. They did not feel rejected or threatened, thanks be to God, and they engaged in a stimulating and human faith conversation (we did a little “Bible ping-pong” here and there, so one had to be alert!), and took with them one or two things to think about – which is always nice for curious minds. I said a prayer for them after they left…and suddenly it dawned on me that this meeting was not so different from your typical RCIA gathering! Let’s pick the 5 most obvious similarities…
1. Everyone has an agenda…
People in the group, the team, yourself and even God will have some sort of agenda at every meeting. Some of it will be consciously or unconsciously hidden, some of it will be hopefully converging, even aligning, but some of it will be different in various degrees, even mutually exclusive. My visitors came to convert me, for why else would they weather the rain and possible rejection? But when I pointed out that I’m an impossible nut to crack because I know the reasons of my hope, they denied any conversion-related agenda. The taste of this lie, however minor, was present for a long time afterwards and could have coloured our interaction if I hadn’t chosen to consciously ignore it.
People are very sensitive to honesty. Therefore, for any meeting worth the name “Christian”, let alone human, the first point on the agenda should be transparency. The less unacknowledged motivations, aims and goals, the better. You cannot do much about other people’s agendas, so ask yourself: “what’s my idea for this journey?”, what’s their idea for this journey?”, “what’s God’s idea for this journey?”… Then pray, listen with your heart and be attentive to the signposts along the way. God’s purpose will start emerging bit by bit if you do that…and you can then gently allow your own agenda be inflated by God’s vision for that very moment. Let God purify your motives too and miracles will happen.
2. I don’t do converting…
This is one of the most liberating ideas in any faith-related setting. I do not carry the heavy burden of conversion on my shoulders because this is a genuinely divine prerogative. I cannot convert the other person. I am not asked to convert the other person either. All I am asked to do is to truly meet the other person as they are with all that I am myself. And I am who I am in the context of God’s presence in my life… It’s up to them to take or leave my story, my reasons, my vision, but something authentic in this approach enables a true encounter between pilgrims who are probing for God together – at least for the duration of that encounter.
I could have seen my visitors as “objects” for my own evangelizing efforts. After all, one of them was a Catholic, from a Catholic family, and the other one an Orthodox Christian. Wouldn’t that be a “catch” worth boasting about?! But such patronizing attitude would prevent us from having a true and respectful dialogue…and that’s what opens hearts to the “more” of God.
3. The Word is the heart of the storm.
The Scripture sparked heated discussions, but it also served as a balancing reference point (although beware of poor Bible translations!). In other words, the core of the encounter was the Word, interpreted (and sometimes misinterpreted!) for the context of our daily lives.
Equally, the RCIA meetings can be easily seen as a whirlwind with a solid and calm root in the living Word of God around which everything revolves. And as this Word, which is larger than the Scripture, gradually becomes the blueprint for our own narratives, the peace gently spreads over larger and larger areas of our spinning lives. This also becomes visible and attractive to anyone interacting with the Word as “written” in our lives…
4. Be gentle but firm.
My visitors occasionally contradicted themselves and I was quick to point it out. I also clearly drew the lines of my belief and explained why I disagreed with their convictions. I could have done it arrogantly, in a hostile way or in any other negative manner. I tried to do it joyfully and calmly, with enthusiasm (stemming from the fact we were talking about God!), with respect (after all these women are God’s children too) and with clarity. I could do it even gently because I don’t believe that I posses the truth…the Truth possesses me. So it’s safe to relax and let it carry me even into unknown territories because I can recognise its seeds and “pick” them, wherever they are.
On the other hand, gentleness needs to be balanced with firmness. Wishy-washy is never good enough when it comes to the most important realities of our lives – and how can God be anything else? So spending time exploring our own faith is a time well-spent. It builds confidence (not arrogance, though!), which in turn unlocks gentle authority when it comes to our sessions. Gentleness with firm boundaries. Why? Because who I worship and believe in is who I turn into; so nuances do matter. (And my firmness about my faith meant that the visitors went away with a few questions themselves…)
In this year of faith we are invited to enrich ourselves and others by exploring our faith even more deeply, sure that God is full of unfathomable depth we haven’t even probed yet…
5. Pray for them but let go.
And finally, the end. The visitors left with a few questions to ponder and I said a prayer… Praying with them would have been ideal but as, in many respects, we do not call on the same God, I did not try it. However, no one can stop me from praying for them so that God’s love guides them with care and kindness greater that I am ever capable of.
In the same vein, praying for, not just with, the members of the RCIA group is essential. It allows us to realize that this journey is God’s venture and that God cares more than I do. I am a steward, not the master. I will then stop grasping for manifestations of my success and let go of “my” group in a healthy way. This is essential because that’s normally the moment when I stop hindering God’s plans that are bigger than “my” sessions and allow God transform ME as well.