Reflection prepared by Jenny Byrnes
The power of a poem, or a piece of art or an inspiring symphony is its capacity – instead of being the object of our attention – we become the object of its power. It exposes us or reads us rather than us reading it.
This reading from Luke’s gospel, if I let it, challenges my normal way of thinking.
So much of the imagery of an inclusive community is about showing hospitality to others, welcoming others, being open and expansive in our welcome – whether it is welcoming a new one into our family, or a refugee or asylum seeker. Here at Sophia’s Spring we aspire to being welcoming, hospitable and generous.
Today’s readings offer us a different perspective on how you and I might participate in creating a better world. I want to invite you into the discussion Louise and I have had as we have thought about and prepared for today’s gathering.
First is to declare the assumption I am making about us gathered here – that is, we wish to participate and be partners in creating a more just, more compassionate world, wherever we exercise influence – in our family, in our neighbourhood, in our workplace, in our friendships, our community, our nation and so on.
The provocative thought and invitation from today is that not only might we achieve that by being welcoming and hospitable in our own spaces and community – welcoming the stranger, the refugee, the outsider, the marginalised – but this morning we are offered another way to bring peace and justice: and it is this, that we become the stranger, the outsider, the guest in someone else’s community.
We are the ones who are to travel to other places, to other communities and other spaces, conceptually, physically, emotionally. Places where we are not the ones in control, or the ones who have the power to set the agenda, where we are guest or stranger.
Sometimes our families can feel like a foreign space, where values and expectations are different, perhaps it is there we are invited to listen well and express love and hopefulness.
In your mind’s eye perhaps you can identify some of those spaces in your everyday week. For when we think about it we are often in places where we are the stranger – out of our comfort zone.
We are invited, encouraged to leave the comfort zone of our own familiar surroundings, our physical or safe emotional spaces and step into someone else’s space and spend time in that space as guest or stranger.
It is in these places that we need to learn the behaviour of being guest rather than host.
What might be the posture of a guest – it seems to me that the posture is to one of listener, entering the space in which we don’t belong, we take our cues from our hosts, they set the tone, it is in their space, their culture, their tradition.
We enter the space without judgment or agenda other than to be greeted. When we enter that space and listen and gain understanding – it is then we speak the words of Peace. And it is that space if offered the opportunity that we are to speak peace
And the peace we are to speak is – a shalom that encompasses spiritual, economic, well-being (not just the absence of conflict).
What might that look like – speaking peace, displaying reconciliation, enacting compassion, seeking the wholeness of the other?
For me it seems that it might encompass a couple of things, for me, it would mean not having to have my own needs met first, or perhaps not having my agenda met at all. For me, it might mean accepting or recognising that my perspective on the world is just that MY perspective not THE perspective. To speak PEACE is about holding the other as precious and valid, prioritising being in ‘right relationship’ over being correct.
Speaking/acting/ embodying peace/reconciliation is not from a position of a safe community rather where we are the ‘other’ in a foreign community/household, it is there in that other place we are to speak and enact peace.
And certainly, one could frame our place on this earth as guest, rather than host. Guest in the habitat of the flora and fauna of the earth and thus invited to listen quietly to the earth, rather than us setting the agenda and dominating the conversation – and then having listened well, enacted PEACE with the earth which might bring a shalom, a wholeness to the earth.
Sometimes, I imagine we may feel like a stranger in a conversation with friends or community where what we believe to be important or a priority is not shared, rather than us setting the agenda, perhaps we are being encouraged to listen and embody gentleness and love.
It’s a challenging thought, to me to spend all my energy and time and resources building my safe community, my safe life, but rather to be nourished by home and then to leave that space and journey to another’s home, to be guest – listening, understanding, feeling the heart and the mind of such spaces; another’s community, another’s household in the days ahead.
To me this is the whole point of sharing this ‘meal’ together, it is not to keep us safe and sound in this place – but rather to nourish us and resource us to go and be guest at another’s table.
Some of the places I have imagined you and I may find ourselves as the stranger or the other: sometimes in our work places, where we feel out of place or uncomfortable – perhaps it is there we are encouraged to listen well and to speak words of compassion and grace;
In this NAIDOC week certainly it is to enter the space of our indigenous sisters and brothers and to listen to them, to be with them in their space – emotionally, physically, spiritually – and to speak and enact PEACE.
We seek community here so that it equips us to be the guest in power but rather from powerlessness. To be able to effectively fulfill this challenging role we will no doubt need to return to our ‘homes’ our communities to be nourished and equipped, but not to stay, rather to travel out are the ‘other’, the stranger, the guest;
So there are three elements to this challenge: to being bigger citizens in this world community:
Firstly, we may well have to leave home – our safe spaces, our carefully constructed communities;
Secondly, we are to travel and enter a foreign space, where we the guest rather than the host.
And thirdly, it is from this position of guest and stranger that we are to speak and enact PEACE.