I recently read a quote from Kasim Reed, the young mayor of Atlanta, Georgia. He said "Atlanta has long been known as the city that is too busy to hate .… we must also be the city not too busy to love one another."
"Not too busy to love one another." Seems like that applies to more than cities.
There's another quote on my mind right now. Most of us, Ronald Rolheiser writes, are slogging through our days, "bleeding, less than whole, unconfident, depressed, going through life without a sense either of its goodness or of our own, going through life without being able to really give or experience delight."
He puts a finger on our our wound: "So much of our hunger is a hunger for a blessing. So much of our aching is the ache to be blessed. So much of our sadness comes from the fact that nobody has ever taken delight and pleasure in us."And too often, we who long for blessing spend time in churches where everyone—even the leaders—are too busy to love or to bless.
Blessing as seeing
When God instructed Abram in Genesis 12 to leave his country, people, and household and go to a new land, he said:
"I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you, I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."
It's a familiar concept; one who is blessed, in turn used to be a blessing. As you probably know, the word blessing in the Scriptures is used in several different ways. It can be a little nebulous, and I recognize the rich nuance it has. But the type of blessing I've been meditating on isn't hard to understand. Here, I use the word to mean "to speak well of, to say good things about, or to call out the good."
It sounds a little thin at first, but I'm looking at something deeper, truer, wider, and far more powerful than simply being nice. This kind of blessing—speaking to another person for good—can change our lives and our congregations.
Little children have an inborn desire to be looked at. Back when I took my three little kids to the pool, the playground, or (heaven forbid) Chuck E. Cheese's, it was all I could do not to lose my ever-loving mind at the constant demand for attention. "Look at me, Mom! Look at me!"
We grown-ups have this same need for attention, of course, but we ask for it in much more appropriate ways.
Sarcasm aside, the Scriptures reveal this looking as one of the most profound and simple ways God blesses us. Numbers 6 and Psalm 67 speak of God making his face shine upon us and turning his face toward us as part of his blessing.
To bless can be to look. To see. But what I notice in myself—even as a pastor—is the simple failure to truly look at people. Especially folks at church. It's not that I don't want to. I forget. Or I get tired, busy, or distracted.
Perhaps sometimes I'm scared that if I really look at people, I'll notice that they need my time or attention. Or maybe I fail to truly see my church and the people I serve for the very worst reason of all: I feel like I'm already familiar with them.
Looking for the invisible God? Or something else?
Basil Pennington tells the story of a seminary teacher with an incredible impact on his students. He was a greatly loved professor, and many followed him into his field of theology. When asked at his retirement what he attributed his great success as a professor to, he said "I saw the image of God in each of my students, and I worshipped."