Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Do you want to hear a good ghost story?
Two travellers meet a stranger on the road. They are in a hurry to get out of town because their Shaman has just been executed and they don’t want to be next.
The stranger asks what they’re talking about so intently and they’re surprised that he hasn’t heard about it. The stranger says “tell me about it” and gets them to tell the whole story in their own words including a fantastic report from some (nameless) women in their group about meeting an angel and the Shaman too - alive and well!
As they journey together the Stranger gives them a big picture view of how it all needed to happen this way. The Stranger has a grasp of their holy scriptures that pulls a sense of history and continuity from them.
To this Stranger it’s not surprising that the Authorities have eliminated a subversive threat to their empire’s social and religious power. Any prophet that seeks to inspire the people’s imaginations to renew the old ways of Sabbath and Jubilee – can expect the same.
The day is ending and the two have reached their day’s destination. It looks like the Stranger will keep going but they insist on inviting him to stay with them. They know the old ways. Hospitality is a core spiritual practice.
The Stranger accepts and in return offers a blessing on the bread served at the table. When the Stranger breaks the bread and shares it – as the story goes – the two travellers suddenly “see”.
They get it. They get what the Shaman had been telling them all along. That whenever they share their lives with those in need – in the give and take of their ancient hospitality codes – they will be in the presence of the holy, the sacred, the source.
And as soon as they see; as soon as they get a glimpse – the holy one disappears. No snapshot. No autograph. No proof. Just a story to tell.
“Did not our hearts burn within as the Stranger revealed god’s purpose in the scriptures!” they said to one another.
How well do we truly see one another?
There’s a wise old man who tells me “I’ve been living and eating and working and sleeping with this same woman for 62 years. And I try to wake up each morning and look at her as if I hardly know her. I wonder – who is this person and what gifts might she have to offer that I haven’t yet discovered? What new thing is unfolding in her life?”
How well do we see one another?
How well do we look?
Do we simply look for the surface signs that tell us quickly how to assess, judge, and categorize this person so we can label them (rich, poor, abled, disabled, queer, artsy, business-straight-arrow, flake, techno geek, hipster, eco-warrior, hippy, punk, slut, tight-ass, etc, etc, etc - how many more can you name???)
Do we bother to take a second look? Beneath the surface?
Do we know how to ask the right questions to lift the veil of judgment from our eyes and see with our curiosity peaked?
How aware am I of the inner dialogue that’s quickly going on – sorting, judging, labeling (good/bad, safe/scary, interesting/worthless)
When the Shaman says love your neighbour as you love yourself – shouldn’t such an exercise give us pause to consider. If I love my neighbour only as well as I love myself – then just how well do I love myself?
As I listen to my inner dialogue, I find that I must count myself among my greatest critics. Maybe I’m just particularly hard on myself? Maybe I’m just a little too self-absorbed? Maybe I care too much what others think of me?
Or maybe this is the human condition?
When I spent a lot of time with people who dwelt in the community called “homeless”, I quickly identified that personal dignity and self respect were an issue. My crazy poet prophet priest of the sacred sewers Larry helped me to see that my own brokenness, my own pain and self-hatred were directly related to my relationships of helping or healing with those who seem – at first glance – the least amongst us.
Yet Jesus, who we raise high on Easter morning clearly tells us where to look for his presence. Among those thirsty for dignity. Those hungry for a fair shake – or even a break. Those imprisoned by bars and those imprisoned by the jails of their own making, Jesus says “you help them and you will meet me” In their sufferings, their sacred journey towards wholeness they trudge, stumble and fall - but shoeless and straight with only one way to go - while I drive in comfort in circles.
So before I run to my neighbour’s rescue – perhaps a deeper encounter with the challenges of loving self are called for?
Layers and layers of day by day, year by year, thought patterns – neural networks trained to go from here to there and back again have engrained a deep rut of thinking in my mind. What new practices might I try to take my mind into new, enlightened, loving, wholeness? Might I learn to see myself thru the eyes of the One who made me?
In silent, but active, meditation I perceive the diamond essence of my most ancient soul shepherded by angel guardians more ancient than the granite beneath my butt. As I encounter the mud-slinging self, my inner judge.
Of course this is not the face I show to the world. I put on my mask of self-confidence. I tell people that I am “fine”. I pull up my socks and put on my breastplate of social graces and take my sword of self-half-truths into the fray every day I can. And some days it is harder than others.
So where are those angel guardians on those days?
My teacher tells me to use my imagination. My imagination being the place where god can speak, and move, and help co-create new beginnings – new neural pathways.
If I am to love god with my whole heart, mind, and soul and love my neighbour as I love myself, well then, I’d better first make sure my whole heart, mind, and soul are ready. If i enter into the fray with mud on my boots, fear in my heart, cataracts of judgment on my eyes, and defensive, self-protective weapons at ready - then might I actually end up doing more damage than good?
Here’s a little tidbit my friend Cheryl passed along…
Awakened and Astonished — Part I
by Richard Rohr, OFM
“These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their hearts aren’t in it . . . so I am going to step in and shock them awake, astonish them, and stand them on their ears.
—Isaiah 29:14, The Message Eugene Peterson’s translation
—Isaiah 29:14, The Message Eugene Peterson’s translation
A recent study on altruism is supposed to have shown that people affiliated with religion are statistically no less nor more loving than people who call themselves unbelievers. In fact, they are often more egocentric, and only a very small percentage is genuinely or heroically altruistic.
If true, this is surely disappointing and humiliating for religion, although I must say that it largely matches my own observations. Some of the most naturally generous people I have ever known have been secularized Jews. And they don’t even believe in an afterlife system of reward and punishment! We really have to look at this.