Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Other

This week I finished two books that help me reflect more deeply and theologically on my experience here in Honduras.

José Comblin,  a Belgian who worked for many years in Brazil and died in March 2011, wrote Called for Freedom: The Changing Context of Liberation Theology, in the mid 1990s. It is not an easy book to read and I don’t agree with all his analysis of the Latin American context, though I was surprised how his insights from more than 15 years ago help understand the situation here in Honduras.

Mary Jo Leddy is a Canadian who has worked for more than 20 years with refugees in Romero House in Toronto. I have read several of her other books and met her when she spoke at the Catholic Campus Ministry Association convention in Austin, Texas, several years ago. I found her recent book,  The Other Face of God: When the Stranger Calls Us Home, challenging and helpful – and I devoured it in a few days.

Both are influenced by the French Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas and speak of the other.

Comblin writes on pages 41-42:
To love means first to recognize the other, the one who is different…
To recognize the other is to accept his or her existence, to accept his or her right ot live, act, take initiatives, occupy space, and move ahead. Recognizing the other means being willing to be inconvenienced by him or her, precisely because of the difference…. Loving is always sharing, and hence giving, letting go of privileges, or of exclusion—not merely acknowledging the other’s right to be different, by helping him or her to be different, that is, to grow in his or her own personality.

But this is not a one way street. As Comblin notes, on page 43:
Freedom lies in the ability to open a dialogue among equals with others….
By breaking down barriers, by going out to meet the outcast, the “poor” who are outcast precisely because they are poor, the human being is awakened to freedom. He or she opens the prospects for the other, opens for him or her the chance to be free. One who is treated as free awakens to freedom.
…To serve one another mutually is to help one another be free.

Mary Jo Leddy makes this concrete, sharing stories of the refugees she has lived with.  As she write, “I believe that the blessing bestowed by the stranger reveals the outline of a  spirituality that is crucial for us in this time, in this place that we call home.” But the strangers, the refugees, whose stories she shares are not nameless but are Teresita, Hidat, Gugan, Osman, Clara, and others – persons with lives and names.

And so she writes:
So much depends on whether we see another person face to face. So much depends on whether we know the name of the other person. As we see each other and learn each other's names, there is the possibility of becoming neighbors. There is even the possibility of love and perhaps hatred. However, indifference is no longer possible. The greatest problem in the world today is not so much hatred of those who are different from us but the vast ocean of indifference between us. (p. 77)
The spirituality that she seeks to inspire is "the discovery of Christ as our spirits are awakened by something or someone entirely other than ourselves." (p. 103)

There is, though, a mutuality in this living, recognizing the other as neighbor.
The Spirit of Christ is born between us as we live together, suffer together, and rejoice together. Christ comes alive when another summons us to become who we really are. We become ourselves for the other.  (p. 101)

For her, our own need can awaken in the other a response that heals even us – calling us home, out of alienation and what she calls the “imperial self” which seeks to make everything like ourselves.
our great need can summon others to be good and responsible.
… In my experience, as we live together with people who are different from ourselves, the possibility of becoming neighbors emerges. The neighbor is neither the same as we are nor totally different. Becoming a neighbor allows for a difference without indifference. To acknowledge that we as a church are in need of a Good Samaritan is to recognize that we can find our way forward to our true selves if we listen to the call of the stranger. The stranger may be a person, another culture, another religion, a different social class. The stranger is the one who calls us home.  (pp. 119-120)

As I continue to work here among the poor, these insights help me clarify my role and also help me to see why I feel such joy here. I am being healed by the people I am with – Gloria, Ovidio, Marco Tulio, Narda, Josué, and many others (even ones who grate on my nerves).

And it brings me great joy.

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