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Meeting People

Stability, as the Rule describes it, is fundamental. It is something much more profound than not running away from the place in which we find ourselves. It means not running away from oneself. This does not involve some soul searching, self-indulgent introspection. It means acceptance: acceptance of the totality of each man and woman as a whole person involving body, mind and spirit, each part worth of respect, each part calling for due attention. Benedictine emphasis on stability is not some piece of abstract idealism: it is typically realistic.
— Esther de Waal, Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict

What does it mean to meet someone where they are? For me it means that I must first understand where they are and how they got there. It means listening a great deal and quieting down, immediately, any initial responses, defenses, or reactions. It is respecting the inviolate dignity of those before me and the paths they’ve traveled, maybe, even a little, dying to the self a bit in order to imagine as fully as possible the world through other eyes. Dying to self may sound a bit over-the-top, but it seems apt. The voice within that rises in response must be stilled. The knee-jerk reaction that runs toward a joke or making light must be stopped dead in its tracks. All of that must be put aside.

This also means that a lot must be forgotten. Not everything, but enough to see the Church with the same large, bold lines that are seen by anyone outside from a distance. All of the beautiful filigree work, the rococo decoration, and staggering detail must be laid aside for a bit, in order that we might sit beside the newcomer and see, as through new eyes again, the broad shapes and rooflines. We want to run the seeker right into the center of it all to join us in the dazzling beauty. Such is our joy! And we will, by degrees. Let’s meet them outside, in the courtyard and rest on the bench for awhile.

There will be questions I can’t predict and obstacles I left behind years ago. Let me recover humility, and perhaps some memory of my own struggles. Yes, this was a thing for me too. Here is the map I was given. It was hard, but here I am.

There is a time to state facts plainly, and a time to lead carefully and patiently. Years ago, we were in a museum and came upon a painting by Picasso. Like a lot of his work, it was full of strong angles and weird shapes. We might have walked passed it after a glance. God bless whoever wrote the descriptive texts and explanations. They took the time to step through the various elements of the painting, the context, the subjects. All of a sudden, it was obvious. We bought a print of it and have enjoyed it for years. This is a simple example, but I think it makes the case. Cubism may not be for everyone. Much of it is not for me, at any rate. A careful, patient explanation, however, made the difference between momentary confusion followed by dismissal and an encounter with something beautiful and original.