April 24, 2019

Encountering Others

In our Baptismal Covenant, we pledge that we will “strive for justice and peace among all
people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” The world is crying for justice and peace, yet controversy lurks even in definitions of terms. Like a squirrel kicking up dried leaves, we scurry through the space provided for conversation, anxious to find our own safe place.

How can we make the conversation space safe enough for everyone? As we consider this, some self-reflection might be beneficial.

In her book, An Altar in the World, acclaimed spiritual writer Barbara Brown Taylor writes about twelve practices that engage us to experience God. The book helps us recognize some of the altars around us, which Taylor describes as ordinary-looking places where human beings meet the divine “More” they are seeking and sometimes call God. For your prayerful consideration about how to live in respectful peace with others, check out Chapter 6, The Practice of Encountering Others.

Taylor asserts that encountering others with love and respect is to undertake “the hardest spiritual work in the world… to love the neighbor as the self.

… to encounter another human being not as someone you can use, change, fix, help, save, enroll, convince or control, but simply as someone who can spring you from the prison of yourself, if you will allow it. All you have to do is recognize another you “out there” – your other self in the world – for whom you may care as instinctively as you care for yourself. To become that person, even for a moment, is to understand what it means to die to your self. This can be as frightening as it is liberating. It may be the only real spiritual discipline there is. – Barbara Brown Taylor

Taylor challenges us to encounter the people in our path, not simply co-exist. The chapter made me think about whether I encounter the sexton with same warmness I give the rector. Am I as interested in the stories of an old woman on a park bench as I am the latest gossip? Do I go to interfaith prayer vigils or stay in my pew on Sunday morning? Do I strike up a grocery line conversation with the kid with spiked purple hair or pretend to be interested in a magazine?

Taylor calls the practice of encountering others “an assignment to get over your self.” Perhaps therefore it can create an environment for conversations about living into our Baptismal Covenant.