Barbara Smith is a member of a religious order who has served in ministries including work at Newman University in Wichita, Kansas; parish ministry among the Navajo in Crownpoint, New Mexico and as the leader of her congregation in Rome. Her essay below appeared in the August 10-23, 2018 edition of the National Catholic Reporter. I thought it was an inspiring follow-on to the David Brooks column on personalism—personalism as seen and practiced by a member of a religious community.
Our fast-paced world can easily jeopardize the basic human connections that mean so much to us as women religious. For some of us, deadlines are forever present. Technologies, both old and new, drive much of this demand. However, even we — people who thrive on connecting with others — can make our contribution to this dilemma.
A significant learning that has enabled me to minister in life-giving ways is the small and seemingly simple expression of care. Care can be wrapped in a little note that says, “You are important to me.” A smile of acknowledgement, an embrace, the tender gesture of placing my hand on another’s shoulders — all signals they’re not alone and someone is there to lift them up.
I read in a Huffington Post blog that random acts of kindness can have an effect because you are “giving and receiving love … unconditional love … What you consider a little bit of kindness may just turn a person’s life completely around and give them hope for the future.” In performing random acts, “you become an inspiration, opening the awareness of others to their own potential.”
All these ways of being connected honor the importance of the dignity given to each person I encounter. People know they are respected by the way words are spoken, the thoughtfulness that they experience.
I had a good friend who taught me about affirming the dignity for each person. Father Mike was an outgoing person who always had time to give to the other. If he met you in the hall and greeted you with “How’s it going for you today?”, he would not continue down the hall as you responded but would stop and give his full attention to your response.
If he detected that there was pain or suffering in your answer, he would say, “Would you like to talk about it?” And he would find a space to listen to you share what was in your heart.
Our being on the run constantly blocks the opportunity to take a little time to listen to someone, to acknowledge they are important enough to interrupt my life.
This quote from Rachel Naomi Remen speaks to my heart and motivates me to be with another person: “Our listening creates sanctuary for the homeless parts within the other person.” This act of listening becomes a sacred space, creating a sense of feeling at home, of being able to rest and find the words to share what is happening in his/her life.
What changes in me when someone reverently listens to me? This is a sacramental moment, an experience of namaste, recognizing God within another. [Note from Tom: For those of you who don’t do yoga, and I don’t, “namasté” is a Hindu expression spoken with a slight bow and hands pressed together, which translates as “I bow to the divine in you.”]
We have all had experiences where we felt appreciated and respected through the care of another. Pause for a moment and tap into these deep feelings. What impact did they have on the way we encountered others throughout that day? My sense of dignity touches the dignity and worth of another person — and the circle of care grows larger.
Each of us has busy days and a busy life, but that does not give us permission to disregard the sacredness of another who enters our world of deadlines.
Don’t you just love the word deadlines and its implications for us? If we continue to meet all the deadlines and miss the persons or experiences in our daily lives, we most certainly will encounter the “dead-lines” that have no heartbeat or response to the life-giving mystery of God’s people in our lives.
Various people (including Maya Angelou and Carl Buehner) have been credited with the saying that people remember not what you said or did but how you made them feel. Whoever I should thank for that, it has become a motto for my life.
Do I take the time to make a difference by simply offering a kind word, a gentle touch, a sacred space for another to share their story, or a caring message to be felt at the level of the heart and soul?