We are all fundamentally the same...

"We are all fundamentally the same, no matter what our age, gender, race, culture, religion, limits or disabilities may be.  We all have vulnerable hearts and need to be loved and appreciated."  This simple but elegant confession of Jean Vanier's resonates deeply in my soul.  Like the song that starts Psalm 42 I sense a common ache within each of us: 

As a deer pants for flowing  streams

 so my soul longs for you, O God. 
My soul thirsts for God,
   for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
   the face of God?

Last night as I was reading Vanier, I came across two tender but rich quotes that clarified part of my recent quest for discernment in ministry.  He writes that when we choose to "become human" in a conscious and committed way:

We begin the movement from exclusion to inclusion, from fear to trust, from closedness to openness, from judgement and prejudice to forgiveness and understanding.  It is a movement of the heart. We begin to see each other as brothers and sisters in humanity.  We are not longer governed by fear, but by the heart... (and when this happens we see) that the inclusion of those who are marginalized bring a gift to all, to each of us as individuals, to the larger forms of human organization, and to society in general.  The excluded, I believe, live certain values that we all need to discover and to live ourselves before we can become truly human.  It is not just a question of performing good deeds for those who are excluded but of being open and vulnerable to them in order to receive the life that they can offer:  to become their friends.    

I am so touched by these words - the wounded and excluded have a gift for those of us who believe we have it all together - they show us how to become friends.  Not clients, nor projects, problems or challenges:  friends.  Jesus spoke to those closest to him as friends, too in John 15.

‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

Vanier notes that friends change us:  friends "call us to be people of mutual trust, to take time to listen and be with each other... they call us out from our individualism and need for power into belonging to each other and being open to others. They break down the prejudices and protective walls that give rise to exclusion." That has been true in my life - those whom I have let into my heart have changed me with love - and that is probably why it takes so long for me to become friends with others.  I know a lot about fear and keeping myself safe; being vulnerable, open and trusting isn't easy.

What that tells me about my ministry right now is simple:  there must be lots of space and time for people to learn they can trust one another.  No forced or rushed intimacy - and no phony acts of sloppy agape.  Less projects and more time together - open to God's loving presence - without pressure or expectation.  More quiet and less talk, more invitation and less challenge, more love and less fear.  "The heart is the place where we meet others, suffer and rejoice with them. It is the place where we can identify and be in solidarity with them. Whenever we love, we are not alone."

The second quote from Vanier's Becoming Human that touched me was this and it confirms what I have been discerning re: social transformation:

I am not suggesting for a moment that each one of us must welcome into our homes all those who are marginalized. I am suggesting that if each one of us, with our gifts and weaknesses, our capacities and our needs, opens our heart to a few people who are different and become their friends, receive life from them, our societies would change because that is the way of the heart.

For a number of years I have sensed that my calling at this moment in time was NOT to be engaged in acts for social change that I celebrated in my youth.  There is a place - and often a need - for marching and bold challenges to the political status quo.  But my experience over and over again is that I become what I hate in these arenas.  I become brittle and narrow minded.  In fact, I become the opposite of a friend.  Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that I am complacent or that evil must not be confronted.  Just that the old ways of doing so no longer work for me - and haven't advanced the cause of compassion and justice for some time.
So what I have been discovering in the writing of Parker Palmer, Jean Vanier and Henri Nouwen is a different and human-scaled way of advancing the values of Jesus:  taking the time to become friends with a few people who are very, very different from me.  Different in abilities, different in religion, different in gender, race, class and politics.  And as we become friends, a small change takes place in my heart and, I trust, in the greater community, too.  "The science of the heart," Vanier writes, "permits us to be vulnerable with others, not to fear them but to listen to them, to see their beauty and value, to understand them in all their fears, needs and hopes, even to challenge them if need be.  It permits us to accept others just as they are and to believe that they can grow to greater beauty."

That is, the way of the heart lets me become a friend and friendship leads us away from taking ourselves too seriously.  It leads us away "from an overly serious world into a world of celebration, presence and laughter: the world of the heart."  Years ago, in the adolescent innocence of the 60s, I used to sing a song that was laughed at by those in charge.  Today I understand their cynicism - I've been there and done that - and that's why I have come to believe that the song's wisdom is actually more significant now than it was back in the day. 

This seems to becoming more and more true with a LOT of the old songs: they have a depth that cuts deeper than cultural nostalgia for they are songs of the heart.

credits:
1) joniewp.wordpress.com
2) howardinsights.blogspot.com

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