Do the people you come across, in the daily hum drum of life, function sort of like movie 'extras' in the grand story of your life?
Next time you walk away from a shop till, ask yourself whether you'd be able to recognise the person that was behind the till. Would you be able to recall if they seemed happy, anxious, or relaxed?
Recently, I've noticed that I can stand in the queue, be served by someone, confirm that I'm paying with card (because it's 2019...), confirm that I still don't have a Nectar/points/club card, pay, take my groceries and walk away and not really have noticed the person in front of me.
In a sense, I interact with people a little like my life is a movie, and some people are the actors - characters that matter who I more naturally notice. And then there's, well, everyone else - like mere extra's on a film set. Those who don't get named in the final credits.
And even the people that I do 'notice' - so often my interactions are plagued by seeing them through the lenses of my own insecurities, wants and needs.
I was struck recently hearing this quote:
“We either contemplate or we exploit” Leanne Payne
To contemplate means to 'gaze attentively' at something; to behold. It shares similar Latin origins as our English word 'temple', with the similarity of 'intentionally making space to notice and behold'.
I've written before about how the Bible, when it introduces us to us, in a stunning and subversive way it radically universalises and democratises the idea of royal rulership and bearing the image of God. Rather than describing the political leaders - the king or queen - as the sole person of royal value, significance and dignity, the Bible turns this on its head and describes all people as having Royal worth, significance and dignity. Every human being is described as a ruler (in terms of value and responsibility), made in the image and likeness of the Triune community of God-persons.
I think the Bible invites us to see people in a certain way. It invites us to train ourselves to contemplate one another: to 'gaze attentively' at the person in front of us. To see each person as a character, not just an extra, and to know they have a whole story themselves. To see each person reflecting, in some way, the Creator God.
Andy Crouch, an influential Christian writer and leader, has said: "If I don't contemplate you - gaze at the Divine image in you, and pay attention to who you are now, not who I want you to be, I will jump to using you for some end of my own almost instinctively. But contemplation opens up the opportunity of truly encountering one another."
About 6 years ago I was away at a Bachelor's/Stag weekend. The 7 or so of us arrived at where we were staying for the weekend: Echo Lake in California. It is one of the most stunning places I've ever been.
You can't drive to the lakeside wood cabin - you can only drive to one edge of the lake, and then go across the lake on a boat to the cabin. The owner of the cabin was there to greet us as we arrived. He was an older gentleman with a small frame, grey beard and unintimidating presence. We walked up to him to introduce ourselves. I reached out my hand, and, without thinking, said: "Hi, I'm Clark. Nice to meet you". I just said it because it's what we say when we meet someone new, right?
The man kept hold of my hand. His kind eyes locked on to my face. He smiled warmly. He wasn't in any rush to move on to the next guy. He seemed so happy. Slowly, in a very meaningful way, he said something like: "Clark... You're Clark. It is so very wonderful to meet you."
After what felt like minutes, he stopped looking at me and let go of my hand and went to meet the next person.The whole thing seemed to go on for ages. He took his time with each person. He seemed to really cherish meeting each of us. As if each person was someone really important; someone he'd been looking forward to meet - and this was the grand, regal moment.
If I remember correctly, I found out later that he was a Christian. That moment of meeting him has really struck me and staying with me. I wonder whether he had trained himself to contemplate - to intentionally behold and value the people he meets. To meet each person as if he was meeting royal dignitaries (which the Bible says he is). To behold something of the Divine reflection before him (which the Bible says is present in each of us).
I wonder what it would look like if we all learnt to truly 'contemplate' one another? I'm not suggesting this needs to look like long, slightly awkward handshakes when we meet people. It might look different on the surface. But what would it be like if we viewed people the way the Bible invites us to view them? What would our relationships, work teams, church groups, neighbourhoods, school drop-offs, squash clubs... etc be like if we learnt to contemplate one another?
I think it's difficult and complex to move away from 'exploiting' people for our own needs, towards contemplating them for their intrinsic value and beholding their reflection of the Divine. It's easier with the people we know well and like. But with the person who sees the world a bit differently to me, who votes differently, or believes differently, or acts differently.... it's not always so easy.
I think we need to train ourselves into contemplation. It's not something we can just decide overnight. Perhaps you'd like to train yourself by using this prayer which I've borrowed from Bruxy Cavey - an Anabaptist Church leader in Canada:
Dear God, Please help me be awake, attentive, and available to everyone I interact with today. Amen
AWAKE: to my identity as God's image bearer
ATTENTIVE: giving the gift of focussed attention to others
AVAILABLE: ready to invest time and energy as opportunities arise
May you find someone around you today to truly contemplate.
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