10 Thoughts on the Practice of Encountering Others: Community
Adapted by Kate Huey from Chapter Six of Barbara Brown Taylor's book, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith
The practice of encounter was at the heart of Jesus' own ministry, Taylor tells us, and the church has been working on it ever since.
Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us that "Jesus did not have a home he could welcome people into….which may be what gave him such a hospitable heart."
Wherever Jesus went, he made people feel at home, "like kin, and no one is dismissed from his circle of concern."
Hospitality doesn't mean just welcoming others into our homes and churches, but loving the stranger just as God does, making the whole world more hospitable.
Jonathan Sacks tells us that the Hebrew Bible "in no fewer than 36 places commands us to 'love the stranger.'"
But why should we love the stranger, "the other"?
First, because "you know what it is to be a stranger yourself," Taylor says. And second, "because the stranger shows you God." Jesus taught us to see him in unexpected people: the hungry, the thirsty, and the imprisoned.
All the way back to Abraham and Sarah welcoming messengers from God, and Jacob wrestling with God on the riverbank: you never know in whom God will show up.
If we "host suppers with surprising guest lists," says Taylor, perhaps we will "see past our own reflections in the mirror to the God we did not make up."
We need community in order to to become whole ourselves: Taylor observes that ancient hermit-monks gathered regularly to share communion and a meal.
"The deeper reason they needed one another was to save them from the temptation of believing in their own self-sufficiency."
We need one anotherbecause we"need someone to tell our stories to," and "help us forget ourselves, a little or a lot."
"The great wisdom traditions of the world all recognize that the main impediment to living a life of meaning is being self-absorbed."
A paradox : "In seeking other people out in order to get something for myself, the deeper truth is that I am hoping they will draw me out of myself."
A day of volunteering, for example, sends us home "tired but also oddly refreshed."
Being part of something greater than ourselves can be experienced in "the often fleeting but fully memorable gift of escaping the small self long enough to glimpse a wholeness more real than the most real brokenness."
"Everything that exists, exists in this wholeness. Everything that lives, lives in this light."
Taylor suggests we begin by acknowledging those who might escape our attention in the everyday encounters of life: just meeting their eyes, letting a person "know that she has been seen."
The important thing about this encounter is "that at least one person is willing to treat it as holy, capitalizing on the 'You' as well as the 'I.'"
"What we have most in common is not religion but humanity," Taylor writes. "It is in the eye-to-eye thing, the person-to-person thing…where God's Beloved has promised to show up."
"The point is to see the person standing right in front of me, who has no substitute, who can never be replaced, whose heart holds things for which there is no language, whose life is an unsolved mystery."