During our recent cold weather, I was on my way home and I felt I needed some comfort food, namely a cheese and mince pie. I decided to call into my local bakery that does a very good line in pies. After selecting my pie, it was time to pay the pie lady. Upon offering her my money, she said, “You on holiday in New Zealand?”
“No” I replied, what gave you that impression?
She responded “Well you have a scarf and look like a visitor.”
My response was one I have used before on these occasions:
“I have been in NZ for thirty eight years, how long have you been here?”
She held up her hand showing four out stretched fingers and her thumb.
I could work that one out, “five years” was my reply.
“Yes.” She said, with huge smile on her face.
The pie was calling so I thanked and wished her a ‘Go Well.’ Leaving the warmth of the bakery and venturing again into the cold wind I arrived home to enjoy the delights of my pie. Later, after being splendidly comforted I reflected upon our interaction. I admit it was not a new experience to be classified as a visitor, for I have experienced similar comments on various occasions and I am now no longer surprised how people respond to me.
Being a visitor is an interesting experience, it may be filled with both danger and opportunity. I am sure you have been a visitor in some place, either overseas or here in NZ. Take a moment to think of your experience of being a visitor:
Where were you?
Where you alone or with someone?
How did you feel?
What was going through your mind?
What did you find helpful?
What did you find unhelpful?
What would you like to change?
From time to time visitors come and join us at St Aidan’s. How we welcome and embrace them in our webs of belonging is extremely important. We each have a responsibility to do this, for you know what it is like being a visitor in a strange place. Yet, if we are honest, we find it difficult at times to step across the imaginary line drawn between ourselves and another. To reach out and speak to the stranger who is really just like us, yet also very different.
The story is told of a newly sober AA member who was visiting a strange city. He wanted to attend an AA meeting, after receiving directions on the telephone; he sets out to find the meeting being held in a church complex. He walks into this old rambling building and begins to search for the room where the meeting is being held. The first door he opens reveals a group of children in their choir robes, getting ready to sing. He closes the door rather quickly … no, that’s not it. He looks in another door …. No, half a dozen women are sewing and talking. That is not it. Panic pays a visit, for he has never felt comfortable in church, he walks quickly down the hallway, feeling somewhat lost, thinking if he sees an exit he will take it, but still hoping to find what he came for. Suddenly a cloud of cigarette smokes wafts down the hallway, and he smells the bitter burnt aroma of strong coffee. He hears voices and the welcoming sound of people laughing. Walking faster, he finds a room with the familiar blue jacketed books on the table, the prayer of serenity on the wall. Entering the room, greeted by a dozen smiles, he sighs deeply and smiles back. He’s found home.
Home means different things to different people; ideally it is a place of acceptance where we fit in precisely because of our limitations, not because of what we have, but because of what we lack. AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) is precisely that place of belonging were difference is treasured because all share a similar story. Some years ago AA adopted the prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr which became known as the Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
This is a truly wonderful prayer for it enables the pray – er to begin a journey of self acceptance, hope and courage. It is not surprising that Alcoholics Anonymous use it at every AA meeting.
At AA meetings it’s explained that each person will understand God in a different way, along with taking personal responsibility for their own spiritual growth and sobriety. These are profound and powerful insights which non AA members can appropriate for their own lives.
You will have your own understanding of God or indeed may not have any concept of God whatsoever. The word God is shrouded in mystery and ultimately any descriptions we have are at best limited and flawed within our humanness. Having said that, it does not detract from the prayer, for we are being invited to become more fully human and alive by accepting things we cannot change and changing what we can, the key is of course the wisdom to know the difference. This means we are the only person who can take responsibility for our own lives and not attempt to off load that responsibility to another person. For ultimately the only person you or I have any control over is our self. It is a lifelong process of learning what we can change, what we cannot, and of course seeking to know the difference.
When I think about that, I realize afresh what an awesome responsibility we humans have on our journey through life. Yet often we don’t experience being fully human and fully alive. I recall reading the following story some years ago:
A boy with a rare disease had to live his entire life in a sterile plastic bubble, for a single germ, an unsterilized touch, could be fatal. Anyone reaching to him through the hermetically sealed opening in the bubble had to wear sterilized gloves, and everything that came to him – books food, utensils, and gifts – had to be decontaminated before passing through that opening. He was sealed off, isolated, in permanent quarantine. But even the airtight, sterile bubble couldn’t save him. When the boy understood that he was dying, he asked for only one thing – to reach outside the bubble and touch his father. Doomed, knowing that this encounter was death itself, the boy reached out and touched his father’s hand.
Whenever I read this story it evokes a different response within me. What response does it evoke with you?
This story may also serve as a metaphor for us all on the journey of life. Let me explain:
In our relationships with human beings i.e. a family member, friend, stranger, even a fellow church member, we at times experience being wounded in some way. This may occur for various reasons; I am sure you have experienced this and know how it feels. Our wounds are very often emotional and spiritual while unfortunately for some are also physical.
Our response to being wounded will vary from person to person. One way is that we seek to create an emotional protective bubble around ourselves to ensure we don’t get hurt again. We learn to blow these protective bubbles during our early years and we become experts at blowing them throughout our life. Our perception is that in our bubble we are safe and secure, which gives an illusion we are self contained needing no one. But, in our bubble the very thing we need more than anything else, that we don’t have is the interaction and love of another human being, for we are made to love and be loved.
If we look out from our bubble and see others enjoying and getting on with life, we may become angry and bitter. Sometimes we turn that anger inward, which in the darkness transforms into depression and despair.
One of the interesting things about our protective bubbles is they offer an illusion that we are protecting ourselves from further hurt, disappointment and pain. To live is to have pain, we cannot have one without other, no matter how hard we try for pain is the touchstone or if you like the foundation stone of all growth. Please note that all protective bubbles come with a warning notice which reads: Please beware if you burst this bubble you may again be wounded, but, you will be alive to enjoy life with other travellers on the journey.
Ultimately, once we know we are living life from within a protective bubble, to remain there is always our decision, or we may choose like the boy to reach out beyond its confines, even if that may mean part of our ego dies a little to let our soul live. Deep down in our soul we know there is another way of living.
Just as AA members find mutual encouragement and support from each other at their meetings. We too when we burst our protective bubbles will meet friends, strangers and visitors who may strengthen and encourage us and we them. Each will have an opportunity to live Life in openness with the challenge of seeking to be fully human and fully alive, being visible and present, for our world was made to delight and be free in. That to me is a spirituality of Good News the kind Jesus spoke about. I leave you with a poem for your encouragement and delight.
You Reading This, Be Ready~ William Stafford
Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?
Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?
When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –
What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?
Meanwhile Peace and Courage in bursting our protective bubbles