the face of the other

The brilliant Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas says the only thing that really converts people is “the face of the other.” He develops this at great length and with great persuasion. When the face of the other (especially the suffering face) is received and empathized with, it leads to transformation of our whole being. ~ Richard Rohr

Contrary to the way so many of us were raised in the church, the life of faith is neither about sin management nor a worthiness attainment system.  Rather it is an invitation to transformation of our whole being, a transformation that awakens us to life.  Jesus promises that God desires us to have life and have it abundantly, and that only comes with transformation.

What does it mean to you to see the ‘face of the other?’ For me, seeing another—truly seeing them and not simply the surface—moves me into a vulnerable place.  As I allow myself to see their beauty, their pain, their truth, I know that I am exposed to them in the same moment, with all my beauty, pain and truth.  Sometimes encountering the ‘face of another’ can be just a fleeting moment, and yet still hold tremendous power.  Just yesterday I had that experience when a homeless person who had been quite rude and inappropriate on Sunday came into the office to apologize and take responsibility for his behavior. Although brief, we stood on holy ground in that encounter and were transformed.

All too often we’re moving too quickly with too much on our agenda to stop and see, let alone be transformed. I wonder, sometimes, how many moments in any given day that I have missed, even though I try hard to be aware and awake. Ideally, I try to position myself to be present to the face of the other whenever I can, and this Sunday we have a wonderful opportunity to be present with our Abrahamic brothers and sisters.

This winter, a group of parishioners spent some time talking about what they wanted in terms of education/formation this year.  What emerged, and quickly energized the group, was a desire to learn more about Islam and even more particularly to build relationships with our Muslim brothers and sisters. Through Connections for the Homeless, Bob Arnold knew Maxine Sukenik, a Jewish woman involved in the Children of Abraham Coalition, and a meeting was arranged.  He, Maxine and I met together with Shaheen Khan and the Moulana at the Islamic Education center in Glendale Heights. It was a beautiful encounter, and we are delighted to welcome them to St. Simon’s this Sunday for worship, fellowship and a forum.

One of my favorite hymns, I come with joy, to meet my Lord, never fails to bring tears to my eyes:

As Christ breaks bread and bids us share,
each proud division ends.
That love that made us makes us one,
and strangers now are friends.

May we embrace the transformation of our whole being as we truly see the face of the other.  May we accept and embrace the invitation of Love that made us all and makes us one.  May we delight in the gift of awakening whereby strangers become friends.

Hope to see you Sunday!

Elizabeth Jameson