One washing machine looks much like any other, as far as I am concerned. That’s because I’m seldom close up to one. The problem here at IBTS is that when I need to use one I am engaging in a practice that is largely unfamiliar as far as I am concerned. To make matters worse I discover that the instructions on one machine are in a strange and foreign language and the other is delightfully illuminated with the universal symbols of garment washing – but there seems to be no obvious key to understanding the symbols if you’re not familiar with the symbolic language of laundry. To be fair, someone has provided a translation for the foreign language machine but there are so many buttons on it I find it positively intimidating so I tend to take my chance with the non verbal option.
It was when I was loading the washing machine this morning that I got to thinking about the privilege that it is to see IBTS close up and to discover that, without the need for detailed translation or an instruction manual, you get the feel of how it works very easily. If you are here during a colloquium the place is buzzing, the dining hall filled at meal times and there is little room to manoeuvre during mid morning coffee. Come at a ‘quieter’ time of the year and there’s less obvious activity. You might even get to have a seat at coffee time and be able to hear without effort those with whom you are engaged in conversation. However, one of the striking things about IBTS is the way the community can expand and contract numerically and can incorporate a rich theological and cultural diversity without actually becoming disorientated or dislocated. The rhythm of community life remains constant and the values at the heart of IBTS are conspicuous through the practices of prayer, Eucharist and community.
I suspect if you could bottle IBTS and sell it you would make a lot of money from pastors and church members who struggle to see any alternative to the mayhem of organisational activity and the ‘driven’ orientation of life that many experience as ‘church’. While IBTS isn’t a local church (though there is one enmeshed in the life of the community) and is at times a frenetically busy place it certainly provides a model of life together for which, I suspect, many long. Given it can’t be bottled and sold we’ll just have to encourage more to come and visit.
PS. The drying machines are worse than the washing machines!