In meeting someone or something, we put self-centred desires on hold to connect and acknowledge that we are not impermeable fortresses but participants in a grand unity, writes Rita Glennon.
Two animals are wandering through the forest. How do you know if and when they meet each other?
I first read this question during a stay in hospital some years ago. The original version may have included speeds and directions too. But somewhat lacking the confidence or ability to solve it numerically, or the commitment, instead I reflected philosophically on the question, and finally came up with an answer that satisfied me.
If the animals had truly met each other, the only proof would be adaptation. They would not leave the encounter unchanged because they had met an ‘other’. And the degree to which they had met would be apparent in their transformation.
Eleven years have passed since I first crossed paths with that question and I still carry it in my mind and my heart. It is part of my ongoing transformation.
I think of it when I hear the opening of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ sonnet God’s Grandeur: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God”. It is not only grand, it is also charged: energetic, active, evolving.
I think of it when I read the parable of the Good Samaritan, which I first studied in primary school with Mrs Bowden, in a room with yellow walls because she believed that yellow stimulated the best in her young charges. I remember her laughter as I took strange delight in the phrase “half dead”. I carry her, that phrase, and those yellow walls in my mind and my heart.
Today when I read of the priest, the Levite and the Good Samaritan, and their various encounters with the poor chap who’d been robbed, beaten and left for dead – for make no mistake, they all encountered him – I know I have been all of these people, and I know which person I’d rather be.
The parable heals and clarifies. It heals me of the singular race to get from A to B and helps me to see more clearly the grandeur of God that is always and everywhere, eternally present, even if I’m walking on the other side of the street.
Take the morning rush hour at my house. My two young children often demand immediate attention while I’m wrist-deep in dishwashing at the kitchen sink. Some mornings are better than others – the ones when I free myself of Martha-dom and take Mary’s part, as it were. The dishes, after all, can wait. These children are part of God’s grandeur. My will can bend: I can adapt, transform.
It’s such thinking from the heart that I believe can change the planet as we face the crisis of global warming. As we wake up to others – our fellow travellers here in the people, the flora and the fauna that fill the earth, the waterways and the skies above; as we discover that we are not only all in this together but bound in a bond of life, we connect and open the door to the deep transformation and adaptation that is our best hope.
Of course, we wouldn’t have the parable of the Good Samaritan if it came easily to us. It takes real courage to acknowledge another. It can feel like a bit of us dies when we do so – as if we’re losing something: priority, perhaps; or dominance; security in our bubbles of being; or simply getting what we want when we want it.
In meeting someone or something, we put self-centred desires on hold to connect and acknowledge that we are not impermeable fortresses but participants in a grand unity.
This is the real alchemy. This is the crucible in which our base instincts are transformed into gold. This is where creativity blossoms and wonder blooms; where we realise potential we didn’t know we possessed. It is the ongoing creation of the universe, brimming with life, possibility and perfection.
Perhaps the priest had a service to say that day. Perhaps the Levite was also on his way to the temple. Perhaps the Good Samaritan was simply out for a walk in the morning sunshine, quite idle and at his leisure. Perhaps the people waiting for the priest and the Levite were in deep need of their presence. Perhaps the Good Samaritan had king-hit someone the week before and learnt his lesson, seizing an opportunity to atone.
As Pope Francis has said: who am I to judge?
It is only in the openness, honesty and willingness of our minds and hearts to bear witness to our world that we can determine whether the child will wait five minutes until the dishes are done, or two minutes, or no time at all to have their needs or desires met.
The answers evolve, as we do.