do you see who i see?

A young, red-headed boy is seated in a wheelchair. A well-dressed adult male is facing him, bowing awkwardly in an attempt to bring himself to eye level with the boy. We hear their conversation:

Man: My brother, you know, he’s like you.
Boy: (excitedly) He likes motorcycles?
Man: No . . . I meant . . . He has what you have.
Boy: (obviously hurt) That’s my disease. That’s not me.

This young man better get used to it. His disease is neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder for which there is currently no cure. There’s no need to mention his name (Lawrence), since he’ll always be “the guy in the wheelchair.” We do it all the time.

The woman with the limp (not Karen).
The bald man (not Joe).
The Indian woman (not Shirley).
The rich businessman (not Bob).
The homeless woman (not Lisa).
The gay guy (not Michael).

Those of us who’ve been around a while learned long ago that, to most people, we’ll never be simply Pat, Bill, Jenn, Charlie, or Amy. We will always be known primarily by our physical appearance, our jobs, and our societal transgressions.

The blind woman.
The guy with the scarred face.
The black man.
The teacher.
The gal who works at the convenience store.
The guy who did time for a felony..

Many Christians (say they) believe that Christ (or God) is present within each one of us. They quote from the scriptures (John 1:6-9),

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light (Christ), that all men through him might believe. He (John) was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light (Christ), which lights every man (and woman) that comes into the world.

Centuries later, John of the Cross, explained this concept in a truly succinct manner,

To understand this union of which we speak, know that God is present in substance in each soul, even that of the greatest sinner in the world. (The Ascent of Mount Carmel, bk.2, chap. 5)

In other world religions, I have encountered a similar understanding. I have read in Buddhist writings of the Inner Buddha or the Buddha Within. The Dalai Lama is frequently quoted explaining that all sentient beings have the seed of the Buddha within them.

Can it possibly be that when we look into the face of another person, we are seeing the seed and presence of God? Can it possibly be that there is not an exception? Can it possibly be that this holds true for:

  • the sick and the fit?
  • vegetarians and meat eaters?
  • Buddhists, Christians, Jews, and Muslims?
  • Republicans and Democrats?
  • male and female?
  • old and young?
  • saints and rapists?
  • Catholic and Protestant?
  • presidents and prostitutes?

If the Christian scriptures and John of the Cross have it right, as I believe they do, the answer has to be an unequivocal yes. We absolutely have to train ourselves to look into our neighbors’ eyes and see God. Only then can we experience what Jesus spoke of as the sum of all the law and the prophets.

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Can we even begin to imagine what could happen (in ourselves and in our world) if we start training ourselves to look beyond appearances, professions, and misdeeds? Scraping away that first outer layer, we will begin to see Shirley, Mike, Lisa, and Bob. And then, looking even more deeply, we will see the Divine.

I feel like I’m making some slow and weak progress in seeing beyond the outer layers in others. My greatest impediment is my inability or unwillingness to see beyond my own outer layers. It seems like it’s easier to forgive others than it is to forgive oneself. It also seems that forgiving and accepting oneself, acknowledging the seed of God in one’s own soul is a prerequisite to experiencing God in others.

I have quite a few acquaintances connected to religious communities in which the participants practice distinctive dress. One of these acquaintances once explained how he was approached by a stranger with a pointed question, “Are you Amish?”

His reply came simply and without hesitation, “No, I’m David.”

I think he’s on the right track.

Notes

  • The opening dialogue is from the television series, The Guardian (2001), Season 1, Episode 3.
  • John of the Cross actually wrote, “Para entender, pues, cuál sea esta unión de que vamos tratando, es de saber que Dios, en cualquiera alma, aunque sea la del mayor pecador del mundo, mora y asiste sustancialmente.”

© panthera2, 2012.

what’s your letter?

Poor Hester Prynne.

Like most American high school students, I struggled through Hawthorne’s classic, trying to understand the complexities of humanity, handicapped by my mere 16 years of life experience. And only now, with over 40 additional years to my credit, some of it’s beginning to make a little more sense.

Hester’s community responds to her adultery by forcing her to wear a scarlet A as a badge of shame, a symbol of her sin.

I’ve been wondering how it would be for all of us to wear placards advertising our flaws and secret sins.

  • E for Extortion. Taking advantage of anyone poorer or less powerful than ourselves.
  • D for Dishonesty. Deliberately deceiving another person for our own gain.
  • N for Neglect. Seeing hurt and needs in others and responding by looking the other way.
  • C for Control. Using power (financial or physical) to control other people.
  • G for Gluttony. Consuming more than our fair share of limited resources.
  • M for Murder. Destroying the life or reputation of another person.
  • T for Theft. Taking and/or possessing that which is not rightfully ours.

And, of course, A for Adultery. Unfaithfulness to one’s spouse in thought, word, or deed. (This is just a sampling. Feel free to add your own special sins. You know what they are.)

When I was just a child, someone explained to me that when you point your finger at another person, there are three fingers pointing back at yourself.

Recognizing our own sin increases our strength, our humility, and our empathy for others. A failure to recognize one’s own sin is living a lie.

Generally speaking, we’re far too busy shaking our heads and wagging our tongues over the sins of others. We convince ourselves that our sins are not nearly so egregious as are our neighbor’s.

And why do you behold the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but fail to consider the beam that is in your own eye? Or how will you say to your brother, Let me pull out the speck out of your eye; and, behold, a beam is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of your own eye; and then shall you see clearly to cast out the speck out of your brother’s eye.

© panthera2, 2012.

the value of one

It’s taken me many years and more pain and heartache than any one person should ever have to bear. But I think I have finally come to understand the value of one person, one friendship, one relationship. Over the past year, I can point to so many times when I would not or could not have gone on living had it not been for the intervention of one person.

Often, that intervention occurs in small ways. A glass of cold water. An invitation to lunch. A note of encouragement. Sometimes, it is as simple as an acknowledgement of my existence.

Fair weather friends are abundant and of questionable value. I think of the words of Jesus:

For if you love them which love you, what reward do you have? Can’t even tax collectors do that? And if you greet your brethren only, what are you doing more than others? Do not even the publicans so?

During the past year, I experienced a catastrophic life crisis. Before the crisis, I had more friends and acquaintances than I could have listed. Now, all but about a dozen have drifted away. It’s quite an awakening to find out that so much of my life was a delusion.

I’ve spent months licking my wounds, and perhaps that’s a necessary part of the process. But I sense that it’s now time to get up and be the kind of person that I think others should be.

It’s almost amusing to see the way people have twisted the teachings of Jesus to come up with a rigid code of behavior entailing countless “Thou shalt nots.” Clearly, Jesus himself had (has) much more interest in the “Thou shalts.”

Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked Jesus a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

In one of the gospel accounts, the lawyer, still not satisfied, presses Jesus further, asking him to define what constitutes being a neighbor. In response to this query, Jesus tells the well-know story of the “Good Samaritan.”

Jesus makes it perfectly clear that love is the trump card.

And love is most clearly realized when it is intentional, active, and directed toward one.

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.

© panthera2, 2012.