Rachel Gabelman Convivium Reflection

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April 17, 2018

Rachel Gabelman Reflects on Hebrews 2:1-4 at Convivium on Thursday April 12th 2018

Pay attention. Knowing where to direct our attention so that we do not drift away can be daunting. Pair that with a warning that our salvation is at stake and we are under considerably more pressure. Even if we limit our scope of “what we’ve heard” simply to texts within the bible, we know that it’s no easy task to prioritize the messages therein given the many contrasting points of emphasis. Paying attention can be exhausting. I’m sure all of us at some point have wished God’s revelations came in much more obvious and explicit ways.

I recall feeling this most acutely several years ago. At the time I felt particularly turned around and at a loss as to where to invest my energy. I remember sitting with a therapist in his office in downtown Chicago, on the twenty-third floor of his building. As I gazed out the window, he asked me what ideas I had for myself to overcome this inertia. I shrugged, unamused and uninterested in participating in brainstorming that day. Chiding me, he said “do you expect a message to fall from the sky for you to know what to do?” Just as soon as I started to say, “yes,” a man appeared out of nowhere outside our window. Remember, I was on the twenty-third floor, so naturally there’s only one explanation. I was about to receive a hand delivered message from God.

As you might guess, and as I learned on second glance, this man was in a harness, and had just propelled down the side of the building to do his job washing windows. Thinking he’d hand me a note from God was clearly an outlandish expectation to begin with. What this memory of the window washer reminds me, however, is that it is both reasonable and realistic is to expect others in our community to help wash the lenses through which we look and use daily to interpret our experience and shape the tenets of our faith.

It is only natural that we build up layers that distort our perceptions from time to time and acquire blind spots. Enlisting others to help remove these layers is essential. This process is true in terms of entrusting our stories to spiritual directors, mentors, and friends, who know us well and can direct our attention to where God is working in our lives. But what I’m proposing today is an even riskier endeavor. If we are committed to sincere growth, we have an enormous amount to gain from those who are most radically different than us. How willing are we to invite people who think and conduct themselves differently than us to refine our vision of Christian living?

The beauty of being part of a Christian community, such as this, is that we can expect to regularly encounter others who profess contrasting viewpoints to our own, even while being consistent with the same tradition. At times we can get turned around and prefer to stick with like-minded individuals, under the allure that we have the Holy Spirit exclusively on lockdown, encamped with us. We limit our attention to the familiar. But this is a false sense of safety. If we don’t look we may not even see how far we’ve drifted from the difficult work of remaining in the tensions at the core of our communities.

The truth is that we often turn off our receptors to those about whom we have already made up our minds, those with whom we know we disagree, whose words we have come to anticipate will irritate us. Let’s not be so quick to discount others because we have sized them up once and for all. For when we do, we stifle the unpredictable work of the Holy Spirit who has distributed gifts according to God’s will—not ours—and we miss great opportunities for mutual transformation. With humility, let’s find the courage to pay attention to one another, to those who are most radically other, and boldly discover what we are missing when we hole away with our own kind. Let’s pay attention to the voices that bring us to the edge of discomfort, that agitate us, that perplex us. May we cast fear and complacency aside to move closer with curiosity to discover teachers, guides, or window washers in the people we least expect.

As Desmond Tutu, famously says, “my humanity is bound up in yours, we can only truly be human together.” Today, I dare to say, our salvation is bound up in our willingness to stay tethered to the tensions at the heart of messy Christian communities. Our salvation is dependent upon the degree to which we help one another refine our vision and guard against hardening our hearts, narrowing our gaze and ignoring the real needs of others. We must commit ourselves to this work together. To do so, we must pay attention.