Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Walking and Talking: A Tribute to Konrad

Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Walking and Talking: A Tribute to Konrad

Article excerpt

I can still see and feel us walking and talking that day in the mountains. It was one of those splendid golden autumn afternoons that brings peace to your heart and joy to your eyes, that helps ideas flow fresh and uncontrolled. You toss an idea back and forth, like a ball, to your partner; then you walk again in silence for a while. As you climb, a breathtaking, quiet companionship helps thoughts develop slowly; there is no time pressure. It is like a ball game in slow motion! We played at "the vision of the church and the ecumenical movement in this new century", since both of us had been asked to speak on this subject in different contexts.

Konrad was silent for a long time that day, and then he came up with some ideas which ever since have been shaping my own dreams about the church and the ecumenical movement. Healing is the first main principle he identified, and faithfulness to the gospel is the second. Liberation of the church from its institutional bondage is a third, and the fourth is taking seriously the priesthood of all believers, an idea closely linked with conciliar fellowship as the royal path of the ecumenical movement. Last, but certainly far from least, comes advocacy for the marginalized and a clear option for the poor all over the world.

Healing and the church's calling

In these reflections I would like to take up and develop the first aspect we considered that day: healing. I have chosen this dimension of the ecumenical calling partly because Konrad and I had a moving experience together in Iona, where we learned a great deal about the healing church, but also because we recently spent ten days together in Angola and participated in a seminar on "healing the land" which showed me again the importance of healing as an integral part of "being the church". Finally, I adopt this focus because I feel that healing is one of the most important parts of Konrad's ministry.

Konrad pursues his vocation in a manner that is at once incisive and humble, sharp and soft. Have you ever seen him angry? Probably yes, if you know him, but even his anger attests to his strong desire to contribute to the healing of people, of society, of the church.

Healing involves, first of all, being close to people. I remember Konrad as a young father with one of our sons on his knees, consoling him after a fall, listening or just holding him in his arms when the child felt lonely or was afraid. The next minute the boy would jump down and run around again, secure in himself and daring to confront almost every situation no matter how frightening.

Being close. Listening! How many stories and experiences are willingly told to someone who listens without interfering too quickly with comments, recommendations or instruction? Listening is a great art requiring one to be silent for a long while, not out of indifference but out of compassion. This is an attitude that partners in dialogue sense, even when no word is spoken. Jesus--with all the power and authority with which he spoke--was at the same time a wonderful listener and a listening healer. The story of the woman with a haemorrhage is one example (Matt. 9:20-22 and parallels). She touched Jesus and immediately felt that her bleeding had stopped, but at the same moment he felt her desire and asked, "Who has touched me?" Jesus listened to her tell her story. I think the healing of this woman happened both through the touching of Jesus' coat and through the telling of her story of suffering, loneliness, discrimination and overwhelming hope. This was the beginning of her spiritual as well as bodily liberation, and she praised God for it.

Active listening can create an atmosphere in which the healing forces in the suffering person are intensified and released in order to set off an inner healing process. A good doctor has to listen first, as Konrad pointed out recently; in doing this, she may "dis-cover"--in the literal sense of the word--all the life energies of the patient that try to come to the surface. …

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