February 22, 2006
This is my response to the title question above from a course I took on spirituality.
I am beginning to write my response today with absolutely no idea what I am going to say. I have struggled with this question at length. I meet total strangers all the time. Every semester four new groups of students enter my classroom, 240 new faces every year. I meet total strangers at stores and activities many times each week.
Is the question whether or not we see God in the stranger or Christ specifically? I am intellectually aware that God is present in every person I meet, hard as it is to feel sometimes. Is this not true also of Christ? In the context of the question, though, does it mean do I see someone to whom I should offer hospitality? Or is it looking for someone who sacrifices himself for me, this is what Christ did for me. I will assume that God and Christ are meant, Christ being used due to the relation to the scripture reference re. doing things for Christ when we do them for the least of his brothers and sisters.
I make a point to try to get to know people I meet. I work hard to remember names, even though I am not naturally good at remembering names. I easily strike up conversations with people. Does this disqualify these interactions? If we know each other by name after a few encounters and share some information about our lives, does that mean we are no longer strangers?
Hospitality within the home was an interesting section in Thompson’s book. When our children are born, they are definitely strangers and oh how we welcome them and love them immediately. I definitely saw Christ in my girls when they were born. On the other hand, my step-son offered me hospitality when he accepted me, a stranger, into his life with his father. It is largely to his own credit that we got along so well, as it started with his welcome.
The main venue of my giving hospitality is my classroom. As I said earlier I have 240 students every year. I welcome them, I learn their names (eventually), I respond to them. There are always some challenging students who make it harder to be welcoming. I try very hard to remember that each day is a new start with those students and to welcome them by name when they come in; sometimes I ask them to help me with something. This is not always successful either, but I do make the attempt. If they chose to refuse my hospitality, I can not force them.
I had a student years ago, let’s call her Susie. Susie had suffered some awful things in her early years. By the time I had her she was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, depression etc. She was quite overweight and wore huge clothing as if trying to hide that she had a body. She was extremely emotional, and clearly needed far more help than I could give her. I was teaching Personal Development and Career Planning 10. As we went through the course I did my best to keep close track of her progress…not her mark, but her state of mind. She soon felt comfortable to share with me some of her struggles. Knowing that she had professionals doing the real work, I made sure that I was available to listen to her, and did not judge her. Her journal writing was amazing, she was clearly very intelligent, but she did not do well in my class. In the end she was out of school for so much of the semester that she restarted in semester 2.
The next year I had her again in Family Living. She was doing better, but again she did not make it all the way through the term. Even though I knew that she was very low, she always smiled when we spoke. My heart cried out for her when she dropped the semester again. The third year I saw her often in the hallway during first semester. She was like a new person! She had lost weight (not that that is central, but as indicative of her feeling more comfortable with herself), she was smiling all the time! I made a point of talking to her in the halls, letting her know how glad I was she was doing well. I had her again second semester. She was in two of my classes and she brightened every day for me. She worked really hard and listened attentively, and she smiled. She stayed after class to talk to me, and I always feel better after we talk. At the start of this story I was talking of Susie as being a stranger who came to me weak and broken, whom I helped. By the end, Susie had become my helper. I see Christ in Susie. Once she was a total stranger, and she became a proximity friend. I have not seen her since she graduated, but she has touched my life.
Over the years I have often accepted the hospitality of strangers. I played in the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra for years and every time we went on a rehearsal weekend or on tour I was billeted with people I had never previously met. In some houses I slept in lofts, in some in children’s rooms while their occupants slept in the family room. Some served amazing meals, and some just what they could afford, but they all took a huge risk letting a high school or university student into their homes for one or two nights. At the time I appreciated their generosity and welcome. Now that I am older, I can see even more clearly what they went through to provide me with a safe place to lay my head for the night.
While our congregation hosted the Synod a few years ago, it only seemed fitting that I should take charge of finding billets. The shoe was on the other foot as I asked people to open their homes to strangers. I hosted two ministers here and, while I was offering shelter to them, they gave me so much more in the great discussions we had in the evenings. God truly blessed me with these strangers.
Opportunities to serve Christ through serving strangers are available to us every day. They may not look very clean. They may seem much more important than us. They may be waiting on us in a restaurant or looking for service in our workplace. Our spiritual calling as Christians is to remember that every person is our brother or sister and to offer them what we can. All this we do in service to God, present in these strangers.
Posted in Reflections
Tagged church, God, help, Holy Spirit, hospitality, Jesus, kindness, love, reflection, spirituality, strangers, stress, students, teachers