I like people. I like observing their actions, listening to their speech, watching their eyes. When I observe without interacting, it feels safe. And a little powerful. But when I am at the mercy of a social encounter, my perspective is different. As a human being infected by sin, I am concerned about *my* performance, what they think of *me*, etc. I put my observational powers to work, not to learn about the Other, but to assure myself that I am still okay, still acceptable.
And so, encountering the Other who is from another group, another country, another social level, another language group, another world of experiences, is both fascinating and terrifying at the same time. If I can forget myself, and think about them, I often come away from the encounter energized by discovery. If I focus on myself and what the Other thinks of me, I am lost. How do you read a face written with a different writing system in a different language? And when I am lost, I am very often scared.
This morning, I reviewed memories of two kinds of encounters from my life. In the first, I am the foreigner, in someone else’s country, and unsure of the how-to’s, the do’s and don’ts of social interaction. In the second, I am the host, in my own country, playing the game by familiar rules. I have had positive and negative experiences in both kinds of encounters.
Then I realized that the categories of “foreigner” and “host” were not really sufficient; the state of my soul had more to do with the outcomes of the encounters than which role I played. When my soul was malnourished, festering in sinful insanity or wounded, there was a lot at stake in my encounter with the Other. I needed their recognition, their approval, their acceptance – I *required* these things in order to emerge unscathed from the situation. Conversely, when my soul was secure in God’s acceptance, well-nourished by His love, expanding and fit, I felt little risk and little fear, only the adrenalin rush of a new experience.
William Barclay, who wrote wonderful commentaries of many books of the Bible, observed that only the sure experiential knowledge of God as our Father will lead to the acceptance of others as our brothers and sisters. And Henri Nouwen, from another time and another Christian tradition, seems to agree when he says that only by continually dwelling in God’s presence will it become clear to us how to live in healthy relationships with others. Lord, give us that Grace. Increase our ability to find our rest, security and our true value as Your children in Your presence.