Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Future ecumenical leaders encouraged to read poetry, for blessing the going out and the coming in

Towards the end of the day today two colleagues drove me out to the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey to interpret. Today was graduation day for the more than 30 students who have been living and studying together there for the past semester. It's alway a very moving and joyful event. The students come from an amazing diversity of countries and church backgrounds. There's always lots of good natured cheering and clapping as each student goes forward to get their certificate - though this part is a bit of a nightmare for the interpreter as the clapping oftens drowns out the name of the church and country!

Olav Fykse Tveit, the new WCC general secretary attended the graduation for the first time this evening and gave a humorous and heartfelt "sending out" to the students after they had received their diplomas. "You are ecumenical leaders" Tveit said to the students and mentioned that he felt he had very similar advice to share with them as he had just a week before with a very different group of leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos. There he took part in a panel discussion on what leaders read. This evening Tveit spoke passionately not only about reading but about re-reading - encouraging all of us to recognise what a huge resource we continue to have in reading and re-reading the Bible, not just reading it as individuals but reading and re-reading it with people in contexts very different from our own, listening to and being challenged by their readings and re-readings. As well as this multiple reading and re-reading of the Bible, he also mentioned reading biography and particularly emphasised the reading of poetry. there is something compelling in the brevity of poetry, it leaves you wanting more, formulating your own thoughts.
He closed by sharing two poems, the first one extremely short went something like this "Remember the enormous possibilities that lie within just a single second". The second poem was better known to his audience, fortunately the interpreter (me!) despite having come to the booth without a Bible also knew it well. The Psalms are indeed perfect poetry and Psalm 121 particularly good words with which to wish ecumenical leaders well on their homewards journeys.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and for evermore.

Later in the evening we celebrated the endowment of two new scholarships for Bossey and a Swiss pastor from Interlaken paying homage to Elisabeth Oerlemans quoted the French hymn "A toi la gloire" in various languages including Norwegian. Hymns of course are a good example of poetry in translation.