by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM February 23, 2019
There can be something of a hierarchy in ranking the desirability of neighbors of any kind. When it comes to the insect world, fuzzy bumblebees and butterflies might be near the top of the list. But roaches, gnats, mosquitoes? What was the God of creation
thinking when they came into being? Add to that undesirable listing the stink bug family, 95% of which, according to today’s news, will be wiped out by the polar vortex if they’re unable to find warm shelter this winter. Knowing how unpopular agricultural pests are, I suspect there are few who might mourn that statistic.
As someone who grew up surrounded by the wonders of creation spirituality, I tend to hold a tender spot for all of God’s creatures. When stink bugs occasionally appear in my apartment during cold weather, I pretty much leave them in peace, not so much out of an abundance of compassion as a leaning toward practicality. After all, I figure, their days are limited, so why not simply avoid stepping on them and give them a comfortable and safe spot in which to live their last moments on earth?
Strange as it may seem, this winter of living in peaceful cohabitation with an occasional insect roommate or two has offered me a learning. My careful, tentative coexistence with the much maligned stink bug has invited me into ruminations on a parallel experience in the human world. What must it be like, I wonder, to go through one’s life reviled, threatened, or shunned. To be the teenager in the school cafeteria socially ostracized and banished to a table for one. To be the child struggling to stand up under the weight of ongoing verbal abuse that destroys all sense of worth. To be the lonely adult whose unfounded reputation eliminates any possibility of experiencing spaciousness of heart. To be the refugee not understanding the language but accurately translating the tone of unwelcome underneath it. To be those people on the receiving end of bullying, name calling, ridicule, shaming, or worst of all, indifference.
In Jesus’ time, to be a leper, prostitute, tax collector, or foreigner was to be “those people.” To be designated as physically, mentally, spiritually, financially less. To be branded as poor, without power, prestige, or a voice. To be perceived as different, a misfit, vulnerable, outside the acceptable margins. That’s what it meant then to be “those people.” That’s also what it means today.
But to be among “those people” also meant that you had a unique relationship and home in the tender heart of Jesus. You had a reserved seat of honor at his banquet table. You held onto a deep knowing that you were branded not with the mark of a loser but with the sign of the beloved.
In an interview with Krista Tippett, Greg Boyle, SJ, the founder of Homeboy Industries, a ministry with former gang members, remarked that “the measure of our compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins [‘those people’] but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship” with them. “So how,” he asked, “can we seek a compassion that can stand in awe of what people have to carry, rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it?” That’s a question to mine for the rest of our lives.
“Those people” is a grouping in which no one desires membership. May we instead be about authentic relationship. May we align ourselves with God’s dream for our world where the category of “those people” no longer exists because they have become our people, in kinship with all. May we, with God’s grace, cultivate a larger heart that will move us from separation to communion today and always.
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on a person or group currently branded “outsider.”
Welcome them into your prayer.
Place them and yourself in the heart of God.
Sit together in silence and in gratitude in that holy place.
Thank you to the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill, NY for a graced retreat last week, and thank you to all who supported us in prayer.
May I ask you now to hold in your prayer a day of presentation and process I’m leading on March 2 for the women and men religious of the Diocese of Brooklyn, NY and the Diocese of Rockville Centre, NY. Thank you!
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