How many times do you walk by someone in pain and desperation without a single glance? The world is filled with the overlooked and the unloved. Are you the Samaritan or the Pharisee? In Palenque Mexico, I met a beggar woman on the street who couldn't remember her name. She was mentally ill, and someone in our group noted that she was spiritually oppressed, as well. She smelled awful and had little beads of who-knows-what in her hair. Her eyes aimlessly wandered, never fixating on one particular object. She muttered absurd things and seemed to be disconnected from reality. Although she sat in front of the main town bank in clear view, few people noticed her. They walked right past her. When we asked her name, she did not know it. We wondered if that was because it had been so long since someone had called her by it.
What do you do with a name when no one acknowledges you, when no one has any reason to call you by that which identifies you? What reason do you have to remember it? So, your name falls away, and then your identity - as a member of God's creation, as someone who is naturally imbued with the image of God - disintegrates into a life of incoherent ramblings, a dirty dress, and a few coins that jingle in your lap.
Is there any reason to remember your name? Is there any point in considering your own identity, if no one else does? Who are we if we do not relate to others in community?
We are created to know and be known. How we experience love from others is largely how we experience God. It sounds weird and almost universalist (i.e. "everything is God"), but that's not what I mean.
If we're looking for a profound spiritual experience with the Creator of the Universe, it seems that God is pointing us to others - to the unlovely, the left-out. He says, "I'm there. Do you really want to now me know? Come and find me..."
I didn't come up with this on my own. The Apostle John makes this the theme of his ministry - love. Small wonder that he is called the "disciple whom Jesus loved." If any Christ-follower has had this love thing down, it was probably this guy, and here's what he says about love and community:
"Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us." (1 Jn 4:11-12) His love is perfected in us. What a concept. He goes on to say that we love because God first loved us. Imagine that the most profound experiences with God may be awaiting us in doing life communally with others. It doesn't surprise me that in our individualistic culture, so many are searching for Truth and God and growing disappointed. The answer may be right under our noses - the smell may even be burning our nostrils.
Continued in: Nameless Women of the World, Pt. 2