November 7, 2010

Routinely Labeling or Naming

God is found in the routines of our lives. Whether we are hiking through a forest or plodding down a city street, God is with us. If we are aware of the sights and sounds and smells around us or if we are lost in numb repetition, the Holy lingers on the edge of consciousness waiting to be invited in. Finding God nearby can be as unexpected as coming across this squirrel I saw in a public garden in downtown Denver a couple of years ago.

George Eliot says, If we had a keen vision of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow or the squirrel’s heart beat…As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.” That ‘stupidity’ keeps us from awareness of the One who created all and makes us prone to labeling things and people. We may say liquor or candy are bad, while milk and fruit are labeled as good. People are lumped into groups with convenient tags. In this election we’ve heard more than enough of candidates categorizing each other as pro-this or anti-that. It is too simple to make decisions based on such rhetoric, but we are all guilty. Someone poorly dressed and dirty approaches and we automatically assume they are homeless and planning to ask for money. Maybe the person is a day laborer heading home or even an eccentric millionaire.

Madeleine L’Engle insists, “To name is to love. To be Named is to be loved.” She says, “The name of God is so awe-ful, so unpronounceable, that it has never been used by any of his creatures…But we, the creatures, are named, and our names are part of our wholeness.” The converse is true, too says L’Engle. When we label those around us we are Un-Naming them according. She notes, “It seems that more than ever the compulsion today is to identify, to reduce someone to what is on the label…If we are pigeonholed and labeled we are un-named.

We have to be careful and aware of the way we encounter others as I blogged a month ago. It is easy to label or just ignore, but as Taylor reminds us, “At its most basic level, the everyday practice of being with people is the practice of loving the neighbor as the self…it is the practice of coming face-to-face with another human being, preferably someone different enough to qualify as a capital “O” Other—and at least entertaining the possibility that this is one of the faces of God.”

Seeing the Face of God in each other is an awesome responsibility. The group Casting Crowns song “If We are the Body” is a not so subtle reminder that as Christians we are the Body of Christ and as such we are the hands, arms, feet of God.

It's crowded in worship today
As she slips in
Trying to fade into the faces
The girls' teasing laughter is carrying farther than they know
Farther than they know.

But if we are the body
Why aren't His arms reaching?
Why aren't His hands healing?
Why aren't His words teaching?

And if we are the body
Why aren't His feet going?
Why is His love not showing them
There is a way? There is a way?

A traveler is far away from home
He sheds his coat
And quietly sinks into the back row
The weight of their judgmental glances tell him that his chances
Are better out on the road...
But Jesus paid much too high a price
For us to pick and choose who should come
And we are the body of Christ…

In the coming week, I plan to try to be more aware of times when I ‘label’ rather than ‘name’ people—and in some cases it won’t be easy. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll see in the ‘Other’ the face of Christ. Maybe, just maybe, I can be the hands or feet or face of Christ to someone else.

Next week will be the conclusion of this series with a look at the Blessings we can find when we see God in the routines.

* Quotations from Walking on Water, L’Engle and An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor, unless otherwise noted.

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