We Cannot be Alien to One Another


Sometimes moments of grace come in unexpected places. A couple of nights ago I was a local bookstore perusing books in the Religion section. Please, don’t roll your eyes – I know, I know – A priest in the religious section at the book store totally predictable.  In any event, as I stood there trying to choose what to read next three young people emerged from around the bookshelf; two men and one woman. The positioned themselves right in front of the Bibles.

The taller young man says, “Here we go – Bibles!” The young woman replies, “Honey I have a few bibles, you don’t ‘need’ to buy a bible.”

“No! I need to do this, I want a copy of my own,” he declares. He goes on to say something about the young woman’s dad and wanting to impress him. He goes on,  “How do I know which one to pick?” To which the other young man replies – “I don’t know. Isn’t, like, the King James Bible what people read?”

Enter priest. Quietly and purposefully pulling a nicely bound New Revised Standard Version of the Bible from the shelf I say, “I think this is what you need.”bible

“Really? – Cool, thanks!  What makes it the best?”  He asks.

I reply, “Well, I never said the best, but it is very readable …”

I told him I was a priest somewhere in the midst of this and it seemed to put them at ease.  I was not just some random dude who eavesdrops on the conversation next to him and sticks his nose in the middle of it. No Siree!  Nope! I am a priest who eavesdrops on the conversation next to him and sticks his nose in the middle of it. We carried on a brief conversation about the different versions of the Bible and looked at the language in a few.

He told me that he was wanting to learn more about the Bible because his fiancée (the young woman) has parents who are Roman Catholic and he had not grown up in any real church environment at all.  We discussed marriage prep, twitter and Facebook …and then….he asked if I had a card. I did – and we hope to meet for coffee someday soon.  I want to know how he is doing reading that new Bible. It was a great night in the Bible section of the book store.

In Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Thomas Merton writes about his sudden realization that we cannot be alien to one another:

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

Every day I am grateful for opportunities to meet new people – to meet what many people call strangers. Grateful because every person I meet, speak with, share a story with – is a reflection of the Image of God. So I was thrilled to have the unexpected chance meeting with three young people who were previously strangers to me.  God calls us to see amd know that we belong to one another – differences are only what we make them. What separates us from others….is us!  I am working on trying to get out of the way.

4 thoughts on “We Cannot be Alien to One Another

Add yours

  1. Dear Kevin –

    Thanks for this – and I’m using the Thomas Merton in my sermon this Sunday. So thanks and thanks! Also, I’m quite enjoying the Common English Bible – the newest, complete translation that a couple of McCormick professors were involved with (Genesis, I believe). Very readable and very interesting in some of it’s translation. I like to juxtapose it to the NRSV, which is what I have used most often. I really like the CEB for it’s translation of John’s Gospel – resolves some problemic language found in other translations of John.

    Hi to Catherineanne – hope I have time to drop by some day when I’m London way.



    1. Thanks Liz
      I love the CEB as well and read it’s translation every week – often quoting it in sermons.
      Love that Merton quote
      Love back to you from me and from Catherinanne

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