The Other I

January 12, 2013

Poor me

I’ve just been given an insight that is so obvious I can’t believe I haven’t understood it before.  It’s about the Christian message to serve the poor.

Even as a young Maryknoller committed to working with the poor in undeveloped countries, I had a problem with this teaching.  It felt too much like bribery to me – this idea that we care for the needs of others and in return convert them to our religious beliefs.  Shouldn’t we, I thought, separate the two?  shouldn’t we either say we were trying to convert others or serve others, but make sure the two things were not associated together?  If we didn’t, wouldn’t people reasonably conclude that the Christian God offered both good fortune in this world, as well as in heaven?

What I have just realized is that “the poor” is all of us.  Serving the poor isn’t about economic poverty – it’s about noticing and caring and giving and sharing in relation to any need.  “The poor” aren’t just the sick or the disabled or the elderly.  They aren’t just children or those suffering grief or misfortune.  It’s not just those displaced by a tsunami or fire, not just the starving or refugees from war.

It’s also the well-off, the competent, the pillars of society too, people with full-time jobs with responsibility, who are in decent housing they can afford.  Because we all need kindness and compassion.  We all need companionship and appreciation for what we do.   We all get ourselves into messes and confusions and attacks of loneliness and regret and need help.

I find this idea liberating.  Even as I sit in front of my computer too expensive for many people in the world to afford, living in my centrally heated house with running hot and cold water, I too am among the poor.

Whatever kindness, however trivial, any of us engages in, is not less significant because we aren’t among the economically deprived.  We are each incomplete in many ways and we need others, perhaps not for money, but for love, for understanding, for respect, we need forgiveness,  to learn almost everything.  Even to want to live at all.

I’ve called this a Christian message, because that is the form in which I was introduced to it.  But it’s a human message.  It spans all religions and non-religions, in every human community that has ever existed.

We’re all poor in some critical way.  We all need each other.  Like it or not – and sometimes I admit I don’t – we’re all in this together.

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