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In her autobiography, Caryll Houselander describes a vision that changed her life. She was riding on a London underground subway. The train was packed with every sort of person at the end of the workday. "Quite suddenly I saw with my mind, but as vividly as a wonderful picture, Christ in them all... Christ in every one of them, living in them, dying in them, rejoicing in them, sorrowing in them." The vision seemed to be not only about the people in the train, but everyone who has ever lived and every person who will ever be. She saw Christ in every human, including herself.

Other religions have language for similar insights. Everyone is the Buddha. The Hindu greeting "Namaste" acknowledges the divine in each person. "In His love brothers and strangers are one," writes the Muslim poet Rumi. South Africans greet one another with "Ubuntu" -- I am because we are. Secular humanists and scientists testify to the organic interconnection of all life and all humanity.

John Donne said it with grace: "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; ... any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

Catholic monk Thomas Merton writes of his similar experience: "In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness ..."

Our essential unity and oneness precedes any separateness. We are one human race. We belong to one another. Our primary identity is as a human being. Those of us who are religious sense God's presence within our humanity. We are created in the image of God, and we are God's beloved. Every person is a Word of God to the world.

Therefore we should be cautious when some humans try to divide us from other humans. Divisions of nation or race or religion are secondary. What we share in common is fundamental and primary.

Yes, we owe a certain loyalty to those closest to us -- family and community. But Jesus expanded the notion of neighbor beyond the boundaries of kin, religion, and geography. Our obligation is to love our neighbor as ourselves.

So when children in Central America flee from violence and hunger in their hometowns, we are to receive them with compassion, not lock them up. When war drives families from their homes, we are to welcome them with generosity, not leave them in squalid camps and filthy boats. Jesus tells us that when we ignore or afflict the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick or those in prison -- "Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me." (Matthew 25:45) We are to see and serve Christ in every person.

But we do not. And some people intentionally do not regard other human beings with compassion. Some people intentionally divide. Some people energize hostilities, creating and exaggerating fears. Us vs. them. Some people live in fearful, defensive, self-centered worlds instead of loving, hopeful, compassionate worlds. We have religious language for this condition -- blindness, alienation, sinfulness.

In her vision, Caryll Houselander had an insight about these people. "I saw too the reverence that everyone must have for a sinner; instead of condoning his sin, which is in reality his utmost sorrow, one must comfort Christ who is suffering in him. And this reverence must be paid even to those sinners whose souls seem to be dead, because it is Christ, who is the life of the soul, who is dead in them; they are His tombs, and Christ in the tomb is potentially the risen Christ."

When soulless people lie, divide and create violence, we cannot condone their sin. We can try to act to limit the damage they do. We can ask them to change their minds. Jesus' first public word was "Metanoia!"; literally, "Change your mind!"

But we dare not hate them, lest we poison our own souls. We can see the wounded, crucified presence of God within them, pray for resurrection and liberation. They need love. We must love them. Only perfect love casts out fear.

Commentary on 11/12/2019

Print Headline: First, we are humans

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