Have you ever found yourself among lots of strangers, either all at once, in one place, or one after another, after another? I’m guessing that you probably have, at some time or other. Does it make you shudder, or give you the chills?
Not everyone would be bothered by scenarios like these, but I’m a relatively introverted person, not especially inclined towards crowds of unknown people, so when faced with situations like those – even just thinking about it – I feel myself recoiling, sinking into myself. There are different variables, mind you: if I can just be around them, on the outside looking in, not expected to interact with them, I’m fine; or, if I’m with someone else that I can buddy up with, I’m pretty ok. If I’m on my own, though, and in a situation that calls for extensive interpersonal interaction,…. my palms start sweating and I start looking for the nearest exit. (I get through it, but I don’t enjoy it!)
I had opportunities to deal with this when my family and I first moved overseas, as you might imagine. Getting to know the folks in the small church society was fine, but venturing out into the outside world, where I didn’t know a soul and didn’t know whether I had anything in common with anyone, and I felt like a foreigner, an outsider, I was a little less than perfectly comfortable. “Deep breaths, Jenn, deep breaths….”
I distinctly remember one of the tactics I used, when we first got here and I was first venturing out: I reminded myself that, when it comes down to it, everybody poops. I don’t mean to be crass, it isn’t like I envisioned people going to the toilet, it was just a reassuring notion to think that, even that tough-looking guy over there, the one who looks like he could beat me to a pulp without much effort? (gulp!) – He poops, just like the rest of us. That stuck-up woman behind the counter at the shop? She poops. It elicited a little up-tick at the corner of my mouth as I chuckled inwardly, it’s true; it helped me relax into my new environment, confident that, although I was very new and ‘green’, we were all actually on the same playing field, deep down. (I suppose this strategy is probably akin to the public speaking ‘picture your audience naked’ tactic?….)
It wasn’t long after we got here that I started noticing that folks down in Australia were actually pretty friendly, by and large – even that tough-looking guy, over there. I was often greeted in a friendly manner, and sometimes it even felt like they were more friendly than I’d expected – more friendly than I was used to being greeted by a stranger, previously, even? Recently I attended a get-together of like-minded people, and although I was the newbie among them, they welcomed me warmly to their midst. What a joy! It wasn’t even their like-mindedness that made them so welcoming, because I’ve hung out with other groups with that same shared interest, among whom I have felt – and still feel – awkward and uncomfortable; this new group just had a warmer sphere about them. Similarly, when my husband visited Pennsylvania and Alabama, last year, he felt a warmth amongst the southerners that he didn’t feel when up north. Interesting! I haven’t done the research on it, but it seems that some groups of people are just warmer, more compassionate than others.
All this got me to thinking about what it would be like if I were to greet everyone as though they were already friends – less of the reserved “Good afternoon, how are you today?” and more “Hey! How are ya?” (Or, as they say down here, “How’re you going?”) Throw in a big smile, and I felt like I was onto something: people often returned the energy that I greeted them with, and we hit the ground running! What a relief; what a sense of peace it brought me.
I imagine that this is how the Lord would greet each of us, if (when!) we meet Him face-to-face, and how angels greet each other: with arms wide open, ready to give each of us a big bear hug. I don’t think any of these would act shy or reserved, or stand-offish! Each of them is loving, gentle, peaceful and kind; none of them harbours any ill-will or distrust towards another, nor has anything to hide (not that they could, in the other world, anyway). We read a bit about this in the Lord’s Writings:
Because peace means the Lord and heaven and also heavenly joy and the delight of good, greetings in ancient times were – and consequently still are – “Peace be with you.” The Lord confirmed this, too, when He sent out His disciples and told them, “When you enter a house, first say ‘Peace be upon this house’; and if a child of peace is there, let your peace rest upon it” (Luke 10:5-6). Further, the Lord Himself said “Peace be with you” when He appeared to the apostles (John 20:19, 21, 26). (Heaven and Hell #287)
I really like the Lord’s directive to greet each other with peace. Talk about not judging a book by its cover, but assuming the best! Speaking of the apostles, Swedenborg says:
“I have had many conversations with Moravians (also known as Herrnhuters). …The examination of them revealed that they were very knowledgeable and skillful in how to captivate people’s minds, presenting themselves as a remnant of the apostolic church. For this reason they would call each other “brother” and use the term “mother” of women who were open to learning their deeper mysteries.” (Supplements on the Last Judgment and the Spiritual World #86)
I’m not sure of these Moravians’ motives, but I love this idea of greeting each other as family members! Some cultures and communities do this already, but not the western ones in which I’ve lived. I feel all warm and fuzzy when I think about us all greeting each other with genuine love, compassion and peace: I want to go out and do likewise! – and I hope that others will, too.
That’s how the Lord would want us to be, anyway, wouldn’t He?