Wednesday, August 20, 2014

An Other-Centered Heart: Becoming "One" Through Empathy and Understanding

just posted about the perfect union I believe we will all know with one another in Heaven.  Early in the post, I mentioned how my desire for this unity may have manifested itself as my strong desire to have an identical twin brother.  I said that the desire to have someone who practically had the same body as me, who was so identical as to almost seem to share my thoughts, would be the closest thing besides marriage to sharing "one flesh" and otherwise being "one."

Thinking more about this, I believe that there is another way.  It's true, having someone be so profoundly identical to you might be an easy way to feel like the two of you are "one," but "easy" is not the same as "only."  This other way is difficult.  It's time consuming, and at times may seem infuriating.  But it's also a very Christian response to the problem.  Christianity often asks of us that we pull up our sleeves and put in a little elbow grease.

But do be a dear and keep it away from the sheets and linens.

This alternative is empathy and compassion.  It's that simple.  I said, in my last entry, that I believe that in Heaven we will each know what it is to "be" each other person, not because we are not distinct persons from each other, but because our distinctions will not constitute division.  This would be a unity not because of uniformity, but in spite of how different and unique we will each be from one another.  The union of Heaven will "bridge the gap" between the differences that make us special, so that even out of variety complete unity will exist.  Well, if that's the case, it makes sense that we can have something similar here "on Earth, as it is in Heaven."

How do I bridge the gap between myself and a brother in Christ who is "not like me?"  When the body through which another experiences the world is so vastly different from mine, when the opinions and thoughts of another seem at odds with my own way of thinking, how do I close the the distance?  I think it's by making a genuine effort to understand my brother.  I have to try to see the world as he sees it, to comprehend what it must feel like and be like to see with his eyes and "live in his skin."  Figuratively, of course.

Okay, I think I just lost my appetite.
(Then you'd better keep FAR from those sheets and linens!!)

Maybe there's some opinion or taste in whatever that a brother has that I can't buy for a second.  I may think he's infuriatingly wrong, or "off."  Okay.  It's fine that I have strong opinions that conflict with his, and I am under no obligation to change them for the sake of being closer with him.  Instead, can I see that it's also fine that he has strong opinions that conflict with mine?  Can I at least try to wrap my mind around how and why he is the way he is?  This will obviously never be perfect.  If I truly understood why someone was different from me, I myself  might be different.

To be sure, this requires that I fortify myself in my own identity, beliefs, tastes, or else I will risk losing myself.  A journey that starts out for mere understanding could become a journey instead of discarding who I am and putting on the identity of another.  Rather than bearing any similarity to the oneness in Heaven, it would be more like self-annihilation; I have not, in that case, become one with the other, I have destroyed myself so that the other is the only one who remains, which is a counterfeit oneness.  So by all means, be strong, be sure of who you are and what you stand for before you try this.  But once you do have that strength and that certainty, a little empathy can go a long way.

So the key to unity is not (always) uniformity, but understanding.  Whoever you understand and comprehend, you are to some extent "one" with him.  You can almost grasp what it is to be him.  And if that grasp is strong enough, you might even find your heart spontaneously moved for him even over things that wouldn't personally matter to you.  That's when you know that the magic of unity is really happening.  When in some strange way, the pains and joys of another are truly your own.  In some way, when you've reached that point, you'll have a foretaste of being one with your brothers and sisters just as it will be in Heaven.

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