This has been quite a challenging year, hasn’t it? We’ve experienced losses on several levels. One is the loss of gathering here in person as a family, as friends, as a community. I’ve been asking folks what it is that they’ve missed most during this pandemic. Everyone I’ve asked answers first, “Being with other people.” Relationship. It’s one of our basic human needs. Participating in a “Beloved Community,” God’s dream that we all get along... We haven’t accomplished it yet, have we?
Remember Mister Rogers’ show, in which he asks every day, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Are we practicing this? Wouldn’t our world be transformed if we all did? We might start by asking, “Will You Be My Friend?” I’m not talking about our particular friends — those we spend time with because we think alike, have the same politics, the same religion, the same interests, the same way in which we frame the world.
No, I’m talking about friendships that embrace the folks we don’t necessarily agree with. This whole arena has taken on new meaning for me this past year. How about you? Not only are we isolated from our usual friends, family, and gatherings. Differences have taken on a whole new meaning. A whole new escalation of not only violent rhetoric but actions. Parker Palmer, one of my favorite Quaker wisdom figures, says, “Violence is what happens when we don’t know what to do with our suffering.”
My take on these words is that there’s a lot of suffering going on in our world right now. This isn’t new, is it? This year, in particular, though, has seemed to stir up our suffering on so many levels. What do we do with our suffering? Do we take it out on others? Or, do we practice self-care and tap into the spirit within us to spread the light and act out kindness? Can we ask, “Won’t you be my neighbor? My friend?”
I was reminded recently of the aftermath of 9/11, 2001, here in Corvallis. We responded as a community to hold ecumenical prayer services in response to the tragedy. The imam and several Muslims attended. Women volunteered to go shopping with the Muslim women who wear their religious garb — to provide support and be a “buffer” against any harassment. Lasting friendships were made. We asked, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” then, didn’t we? Can we do that again, now, amid the differences we encounter currently?
We may not call the Holy One by the same name, or any name at all, but I see the divine spark of the Holy in all of us — in all of creation. I need that spark of the divine, who I call the Holy Spirit, to help me be a true neighbor. To “ground” me, I need to intentionally quiet myself, my mind, my reactions. I need to be fully present with the person I’m talking with and set aside my own agenda to listen to them. To ask questions gracefully if I’m unsure where they’re “coming” from. To try to understand what it may be like to “walk in their shoes.” At the same time, admitting to myself that I can’t really understand their experience because I’m not living their life. I can, hopefully, grow in compassion and at least be open to being their neighbor friend.
Cammie Bella is a licensed lay preacher of the Western Oregon Episcopal Diocese. She is a member of the Church of the Good Samaritan in Corvallis. A retired family nurse practitioner, she is currently an ecumenical spiritual director (companion) and workshop and retreat leader. She and her flat-coat retriever, Ember, are team members of Welcome Waggers, a local therapy dog group.