A Posture of Openness

The other day I made a new friend — she’s a recent immigrant from Mauritius who told me that she embraces both Hinduism and Christianity as a way to honour both her parents who were Hindu and Christian.  I was intrigued and amazed at the depth of her faith and her loyalty to both God and her family of origin.

I wondered if she ever heard this ancient story: A disciple endured seventy weeks of fasting, eating only once a week. He asked God about the meaning of certain words in the Holy Scripture but God did not answer. Finally, he said to himself: “I have put in this much effort, but I haven’t made any progress. So I will go to see my brother and ask him.” When he closed the door and started off, an angel of God was sent to him and said, “Seventy weeks of fasting have not brought you near to God. But now that you are humble enough to go to your brother, I have been sent to reveal the meaning of the words.”

I’ve been pondering the meaning of this story, especially in light of my new friend. I’ve been pondering it not by fasting for seventy weeks, but rather by reflecting on how open my mind and heart is to “the other” esp. the one I feel most different from in worldview and meaning-making. Fostering radical openness is in fact a darn hard thing to do. We honestly do not know what we do not know, esp. when we become aware of huge differences in mindsets, in vastly different cultures and religious outlooks. As long as we don’t need to step outside our own worldview we remain happily oblivious to how insulated our lives can be from the rest of the world. Even when we do engage the otherness of others, we tend to keep our cultural and religious interpretive lenses, something that greatly affects the extent to which we can understand and accept the otherness of others. Worst case scenario, instead of rejoicing in the beauty and diversity of God’s creatures, we can become ignorantly mired in cultural and religious arrogance and pride.

Common interests, backgrounds, values and experiences increase our comfort level with people. The less shared, the greater our tendency to feed fear and suspicion. The less shared, the less our desire to connect and to invite the other into our orbit of life. The real loss here is that we close our hearts and minds to growing and learning and loving and living into the fullness of the divine image and likeness in which we were created. It may never occur to us that in our ignorant blocking of the other, we end up shutting our hearts to God.

In her book Illuminated Life, Sr. Joan Chittister says, God comes in every voice, behind every face, in every memory, deep in every struggle. To close off any of them is to close off the possibility of becoming new ourselves. Referring back to the story above, sometimes it is only by seeking wisdom from and trusting the other, however different from us, that another aspect of God and of ourselves is revealed. In our multicultural, pluralistic world, it is no longer an option to bury ourselves in the comfort of our own right-ness of living, insulated from otherness. Like the disciple in the story above, sometimes we too have to consult the wisdom of one very different from us to learn the meaning of words, events and encounters — the meaning of life. And our findings might well surprise us.

How do we grow new ourselves, open to difference yet grounded in our own faith and worldview? How to tell the difference between largesse of heart and wishy-washy, between relativism and divine inclusiveness, between generous hospitality and anything goes? How do we grow into ever greater openness and receptivity toward all that is different without feeling threatened or diminished or superior? That is the task of the spiritual journey; I’d love to hear how you travel that road.

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2 thoughts on “A Posture of Openness”

  1. Hello, Marie-Louise

    I had to write this out in Word and cut-and-paste it into your reply box so that I would be able to temper my word count but still say what I wanted to say. (I know. It’s still too long.)
    Your blog made my heart sing. I remember being invited, as the reporter, to join a group of United Church women from our town on a trip to Saskatoon to visit a mosque, a synagogue, a Hindu temple, a private Buddhist prayer room (the temple was undergoing restoration) and a gurdwara. It was a wonderful experience. They all fed us. There was no question that went unanswered. On the way home, one of the U.C. women said, “The problem is that we have never been into anyone else’s house of worship except, maybe, for a Ukrainian funeral.” I was the only person in the group who had had any experience at all with other faiths.
    When I left my small town in Saskatchewan to study journalism at Ryerson, I joined the Nontario Club. Ryerson tuition was free for Ontario residents. We had to pay – but we had our own club. Ryerson attracted international students and we ran as a pack – many colours, many nationalities, many faiths. Lucky us.
    I accidentally did my kids a great favour when I moved us to Ste-Anne-de-Belleueve, QC, an old French-Canadian town that was home to Macdonald campus, McGill’s Ag College, and partnered in a Tea Spice Natural Food store in Ste-Anne. My kids grew up surrounded by multi ethnicities and multi faiths. It was a Muslim friend who taught me all I know about making curry. It was the Baha’i couple who ran the bakery who taught everyone unspoken lessons on fair economics – he chased me down the street one day because he worried he’d given me five cents less change than I deserved, and they refused to raise their photocopy charges when everyone else did because, they said, they were already making a profit. When I asked her about some tenet of their religion, I had to repeat my question three times. Then she said, “Do you really want to know?” When I assured her that I did, she said, “We are not allowed to proselytize.” They invited us to a house meeting, which we attended. The Persian food was spectacular. So was the realization that these were people who truly put into practice all the tenets of their faith.
    While my small town in Saskatchewan still had Girl Guides, I was often called in to give a workshop on anti-racism. In the midst of one of my talks, one of the girls wailed, “Joan, our problem is that we never see anyone who doesn’t look exactly like us.”
    No, I am not sure I could answer the first part of your question: “How do we grow into ever greater openness and receptivity toward all that is different?” I do know that having the good fortune to travel through life in company with people of many cultures and many faiths has enriched my life beyond measure. At no time have I ever had to feel “threatened or diminished or superior”.
    Thanks for this one, Marie-Louise. The memories that came flooding back as I read it were very precious.


  2. You have very good questions. As you know my children both live in very multi-cultural and multi-faith societies. So. …. they ask me, how do we know that we are right? (Actually they haven’t asked me that for a very long time) .. and mostly now they are far from their faith, but still I see God at work in them. I once told them, “I believe in Love — and really God is Love and I do believe in the redemptive power of Love. And I have decided my job is to love — to love them, to love their lives, to be real in my love and to love all people to the best of my ability and to leave all the rest to God. (By love — I mean with God’s love — to hold all people up before God and see them as created by God and loved by God and therefore, to be also loved by me. ) It is a question that is frequently on my mind … and I wish I knew the answer! Thank you for your blog. I am enjoying it immensely. Take care.


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