This I believe
[Sung] “When I needed a neighbor, were you there, were you there? When I needed a neighbor were you there? And the creed and the color and the name won’t matter: were you there?”
We used to sing that song in school assemblies when I was growing up in Wales. I didn’t know what a creed was, and the people in that school at that time tended to be a roughly similar color, but still, I knew my Bible stories and I got the gist: everyone I meet, I am supposed to treat as I would God. Every interaction I have with another person is an interaction with the holy.
When my mother died this past summer, I encountered God in the most unlikely places. Mundane social exchanges became overstuffed with significance. The airline ticket salesman on the phone, who struggled to find the right flight, the right price, and the right words to say to a customer whose mother was quite definitely dying in the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours; talk about grace under pressure. That’s godliness, isn’t it? The bank clerk who expressed her sympathy and sorrow when my father and I went in to close my mother’s account; she sounded almost as though she were praying.
The kindness and grace of these encounters lit our path through that twilight zone between the death and the funeral, where so much business is conducted. After forty-eight years of marriage, to be exposed, without his wife to cover his side, for my father everything was raw and painful. The most casual slight was keenly felt, so that when someone was kind to him, I was disproportionately grateful, as praise-filled as though the bank clerk were God herself. And because there was more kindness than unkindness among the strangers we met, the image of God in each encounter was easier to keep in mind even when it was not well expressed. It became my job, in those moments, to reflect roughness with gentleness, a turned back with an outstretched hand.
Of course, the excess emotion and heightened sensitivity, even the extra gratitude, were a trick of grief; but they were a welcome reminder of that old song, and they turned it on its head. When I needed a neighbor, friends, strangers, amazingly and wonderfully, you were there.
So, this I believe, now more than ever: that touching God is as easy as reaching out to the person next to you.
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