Skip to main content

get closer

Ocean Beach, California.  I love being close to the beach.
Quite a few characters there that I found hard to love, though.
I was preparing a lecture on Catherine of Genoa this afternoon and came across the following disturbing sentences:  "She was greatly zealous in ... bringing help to the sick and the poor to the best of her ability.  She would clean the most nauseating filth, and if she felt her stomach heaving, she would put some of it in her mouth to overcome her squeamishness."  I felt a bit sick just reading that, to be honest.  I don't understand how putting something disgusting in your mouth can help you overcome nausea.  To me, it makes more sense to drop the offensive article and get as far away as possible!  But the principle behind Catherine's action is simple:  if you find it hard to love, get closer. 

The same kind of attitude could be seen in Mother Teresa.  She cared for the sick and the dying, touching them, feeding them, bathing them, and she never found them repulsive.  Why?  Because there was something greater at work than the filth or the smell.  She said:  "No, I wouldn't touch a leper for a thousand pounds; yet I willingly cure him for the love of God."  Love overcomes any bad or repugnant smell, any awful disease or repulsive behaviour.  Mother Teresa also said: "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."  We forget that we belong to each other because we have put distance between ourselves and others.  Distance makes it easy to see people in terms of us and them: men and women, poor and rich, liberals and conservatives, different races, countries, and religions.  And the more we can keep people at a distance, the easier it is to judge them, condemn them, ignore them.  I believe this is one of the reasons why gossip is such a dreadful and deadly activity.  Because it involves talking about people instead of to them, it allows us to objectify them and their situations instead of acknowledging that they are human beings just like us.  There is no love and no call to compassionate action in gossip; there is only distance and disdain.

Father Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, tells the story of a gang member who was trying to get his life straight.  Father Greg offered the young man a job but told him that he would have to work beside someone from a rival gang.  The young man reluctantly agreed, insisting that he would work beside him, but he wouldn't talk to him.  The first day on the job, it was obvious that the two young men were enemies.  Six months later, one of the them was viciously attacked and ended up in a hospital, unresponsive.  The first young man called Father Greg and said, "Is there anything I can do?  Can I give him my blood?"  There was a pause and the young man continued, "He was not my enemy; he was my friend.  We worked together."  Proximity erodes indifference and hatred. 

If we don't love someone, we need to get closer, work with them, learn who they are, find out their story, have a meal together.  We may not become best friends or even find much in common, but we will begin to care.  We will begin to see them as a person who craves love and acceptance, a person who is broken in some ways and generous in others.  Just like us.

People often ask Father Greg, "Does this sort of change of heart happen all the time between enemies who work together?"  "Yes," he replies.  And he would know.


Peter Watt said…
Well put. We need to get closer to our enemies. Last night we were talking about the last supper and that Jesus washed everyone's feet, including Judas. We need to show as much, if not more, love to our enemies and in doing so we will end up loving them. Or as another writer I read today put it "I absolutely believe that a good Christian will develop a heart for wherever they're placed.". Enjoyed this one, thanks!

Popular posts from this blog

what binds us together?

For the past few weeks, I have been reading a book by famed psychiatrist M. Scott Peck which chronicles his travels (together with his wife) through remote parts of the UK in search of prehistoric stones. The book is part travel journal, part spiritual musings, part psychology, and part personal anecdotes. A mixed bag, to be sure, and not always a winning combination. At one point, I considered putting the book aside, not finishing it, but then Peck started writing about community. He is no stranger to the concept. He has led hundreds of community-building workshops over the years, helped start a non-profit organisation dedicated to fostering community, and written a compelling book about the topic, one which greatly impacted me when I read it oh so long ago.[1]

In preparation for a course I am teaching next year, I have been doing quite a bit of study on unity and community. Once you start thinking about it, you see and hear evidence of it everywhere. (See my blog on the impact of b…

job hunting

I am on the hunt for a job. PhD in hand, I am a theologian for hire. The thing is, not a lot of places are hiring theologians these days, and if they are, they are usually looking for scholars with skills and experience outside my area of expertise. Today I found job opportunities for those knowledgeable in Religion, Race, and Colonialism, Philosophy and History of Religion, Islam and Society, Languages of Late Antiquity, Religion, Ethics, and Politics, and an ad for a Molecular Genetic Pathologist. Not one posting for a Dramatic Theologian with  a side order of Spirituality and a dash of Methodology.

I know, I know. My expectations are a bit unrealistic if I believe I will find an exact match for my particular skills. I know that job descriptions are wish lists to some extent, so no candidate is ever a perfect match. I also realize that one must adapt one's skill set according to the requirements of the job and be flexible. But there are so few jobs which come within ten or even…

building the church

Imagine two scenarios: 1) Give every person in the room a popsicle stick. Ask them to come together and put their sticks onto a table. Invariably, you end up with a random pile of sticks on a table. 2) Give every person in the room a popsicle stick. Show a picture of a popsicle stick bird feeder and ask people to come together and put their sticks on a table according to the picture. You will end up with the beginnings of a bird feeder on a table.

What is the difference between the two scenarios? In both, each person brought what they had and contributed it to the collective. However, in the first scenario, there were no guidelines, no plan, and no right or wrong way to pile the sticks. People came, placed their sticks on the table, and walked away. In the second scenario, people were given a plan to follow and as a result, something specific was built. Instead of walking away after they made their contribution, people huddled around the table to watch what was being built. Some were…