Friday Week 29 Year II

Interpreting the signs is always a difficult thing. How do we interpret the differences between us, between ourselves here or, on a larger stage, between nations, races, religions? Because different we are, often strangely so, sometimes monstrously.
Paul, in the face of difference, is pleading for unity—for charity, selflessness, gentleness and patience. Differences, in his opinion, have to be borne with for the sake of the unity of the Body: one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is father of all, over all, through all and within all.
The appeal to unity has a certain stirring beauty about it. Classically, unity is the hallmark of beauty; simplicity, harmony, unity of form. But too much unity and you have uniformity. And, where the things being unified are you and I, uniformity can become control. So why must there only be one? Why can’t there be two honest opinions? Three noble truths? Four ways of living life fully and justly?
Look at the fallout of 9/11 to see what can be done politically in the name of unity and the fear of difference.
But unity has never been the only trademark of beauty. Alongside unity there has always been colour. Look at the trees this week! They find new beauty at this time of year because they go wild with colour: they weren’t a uniform green before, but right now they are every shade of brown and gold, russet and rose.
Colour and pattern and difference. “Glory be to God for dappled things!” says Hopkins. “He Fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: praise Him!” Look at the rich, strange, dappled world and you see a God in love with colour and with differences. And, Hopkins says, in every beautiful difference God makes Godself known. That’s the way we can interpret the difference between us: as signs of God at work, making beauty be.
There’s the challenge for us as political animals: will we trust difference and make it be the beautiful thing it might be, even though it take effort and ingenuity and above all love?
I think that the political challenge is also our personal hope. Judged by the standards of unity and form our lives often seem a complete mess. We lack integrity. We know our own failings. Bits stick out. Wholeness eludes us. But … look at the colours! Look at what God has to work with! In God’s creative eye all that mess is pigment on the palette—potential, possibility, hope. And the bits that in our own eyes don’t fit are just the kind of challenge God likes, just the kind of challenge that can make a good work great.
Glory be to God, we are works of art, we are works in progress and God alone knows how beautifully we will work out.