The house next door is vacant. I confess that I am glad. The neighbor who last leased the house was troubled, and her troubles spilled over into my back yard. However, I am not sure that my heart was very open to her in welcome caring. I know that one of the places where I met met the Grace of God in my life–both as gift and as propelling energy –is when I have followed Jesus’ mandate to expand my loving of my neighbors. Since I have lived on this block in the same house for 30 years, I don’t need to ask “who are my neighbors?” I have a phone list right next to my telephone, “in case of emergencies,” as if that were the only occasion we as neighbors might be in touch.
I live on a block full of variety: the man next door moved in to his grandmother’s life-long house; two Pakistani families, related to each other on the east side of the street, separated by three house; a young IT person and his wife, a teacher, from India live across the street; two couples, originally from China, live at either end of the block; a young disabled man who works in a bank lives with his mother. Our closest neighbor is an elderly Mormon bishop. who has watched out for the block longer than the thirty years we have lived here. What does it mean to love these neighbors? Where will I meet Grace? where can I give Grace? how will my heart be opened when a new neighbor appears?
This week of Lent I am committed to acting in love to my neighbors, along with keeping silence, walking a labyrinth and singing aloud. However, the week began as I was traveling—who are my neighbors then? I realized that as with almost every other spiritual practice. I need to begin with the eyes, then the actions of my heart. In the hotel where I was entertaining my family, there were other families, ones I found easy to judge because of their parenting skills or manners or the loudness of their voices. Without even entering into conversation with them, I found it very easy to dismiss or condemn them because of the eyes with which I saw them initially. Reminder to self: in Christ we see no one from a human point of view; we are to see them as God sees them–made in God’s image, but both frail and glorious.
Then, on the long circuitous journey home, I had an opportunity to love the one I was with thrust upon me. On the first leg of the flight, a woman from Asia was shepherded to her seat; she spoke no English at all, and to the extent the flight crew was able to attend to her, they did so kindly , communicating as well as they could. She and I reached the door to deplane at our destination of transfer at the same time; people were going many different directions. The attendant asked if she needed help. She nodded, and then grabbed the attendant’s arm and started running out of the plane with her in tow. The attendant turned to me, and said, “I can’t leave the plane. Could you escort her up the ramp to the representative who will take her to the next connection?” So, I let her hold my hand, to which she clung as if it were for her life, and we walked up the ramp together into the waiting presence of the transportation agent. He put her on the little electric cart to take her to her next stop, and I went over to see if she was OK. She grabbed my hand again, and then she kissed it!! and waved as she drove away. I had done very little, except hand her on and deliver her to the right place, but in that moment, she felt loved.
I am back in my own neighborhood again, most of the same neighbors, expecting someone new. Whose hand will I extend or allow to be held when there is a need or a wish or a hope or a dream? And will my eyes, ears and willingness all extend an open heart to be of use? Lent invites me to do that.