Strangers

My apologies for the long silence…

Each year my parish’s Education Committee (of which I am a part) selects a topic for the adult formation series presented, and this year will center around the question, “Who is my neighbor?”  When I think about my “neighbor” I am immediately drawn to one of the many homeless faces I see day in and out in this city. It seems easy and logical for my spirit to come to that conclusion as “the one in need.”  However, the more I examine this in my mind, the more I seem to be replacing the word “neighbor” with “stranger”.  When you live in a city as vast and diverse as Chicago, this becomes more than mere semantics. I live in a high-rise with over 100 units and barely know the names of 10 people—not including my actual neighbors!  Even after years of attending my church there are throngs of strangers I have never met. I may pass these people in the halls or at coffee hour, exchange greetings… but there it usually ends.  When I realize the frequency and ease of my avoidance of stangers, I am ashamed. I cannot help but think of my mother’s childhood in rural New England in the 1960’s, when they literally knew all their neighbors and a stranger was a very obvious anomaly.

Jesus stated, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25:35, CEB) and yet in this area, I truly struggle. Could it be that I am afraid of what will happen once I take an introduction to the next level? Am I more concerned with feeling judged for approaching these people than I am for the calling to do so?

In the theological journal “Conversations”, I read a wonderful article recently about this very topic and author Jan Johnson frames it this way, “Who are our strangers?” People appear to us as strangers for different reasons but they usually fit into one of these categories: outcasts, wrong-doers, anyone who isn’t like me and anyone we are tempted to exclude and ignore. She goes on to examine each of these categories, showing us how Jesus welcomed these types of strangers.

My Community centers on the discipleship of Mary, the mother of Jesus and we use her title “Our Lady of Cana.” Hospitality and welcome are embedded in the every ethos of our Community, so it is a painful experience for me when I am confronted by the stranger I have not yet learned to welcome. The saving grace is that the Holy Spirit is nothing if not consistent and will continue to present me with opportunities to grown and share, even as I struggle to learn. For now, I continue to hold these moments in my heart and pray, “May the needy not be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor be in vain.”

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