It was a beautiful August, 1949 afternoon. The chickens were finding their food, the cows were in the pasture, and the apples were nearly ready to be harvested, when Maria and Roberta knocked on the door of our two story home. Maria and Roberta were Mexican migrant workers who had lived in a brooder chicken coop for several weeks while picking sugar beets. Maria and Roberta, along with other migrant workers, had visited our home several times after their long hours in the hot sun. As Maria and Roberta entered our home, Maria was carrying a beautiful, hand-made casserole bowl and gave it to my mom. My mom cried and her eight-year old son, Sammy, have never forgotten that proud day.
My father was the pastor of a rural church in Northern Minnesota a church that was not as welcoming of migrant workers as he would have preferred. So, my Dad and Mom would invite the migrant workers to our house, and serve freshly cooked meals. The day Maria and Roberta came to our home with the casserole bowl is a sacred image I carry to this day. They were leaving our rural village and simply wanted to say thank you. That day I knew I wanted to be like my Mom and Dad who lived in respectful presence of all.
Over the years I have learned that living in respectful presence of all means that we must learn to listen, listen, and listen some more. One day while in India I had the chance to visit with a Hindu priest whose temple was located high on a mountain side. On each side of me as I climbed the steps leading to the temple were gods and goddesses that looked very weird and different to me. The gods and goddesses had animal and human heads, eyes that were always open, and their bodies might be that of an elephant, horse or human.
After reaching the temple, I was greeted by the smiling priest in a tattered brown robe. We sat down on the ground near a small fire. After visiting with the priest long enough to feel free to ask what I considered a probing question I inquired, How many gods and goddesses do you have? Oh said the Hindu priest, a million times a million. I replied a bit startled, that many? Yes said the priest, as many gods and goddesses as there are people in this world Our many gods and goddesses the priest further explained, are only human depictions of what the one God must be like. Why do the gods and goddesses have four arms? I asked. The priest replied, Because in the Hindu faith we believe that God reaches everywhere. Why are the eyes of the gods and goddesses always open? I inquired. With a quiet love one can only experience, the priest replied, Because we believe that God is an all-seeing God that never lets us down
That moment was a born again moment for me, and I think for the Hindu priest as well. We both realized how different we are and yet we had so much in common. The ancient Muslim Sufi poet once wrote,
Beyond our differences
There is a field,
I will meet you there.
I look forward to meeting all of you at that field. Lets search for the field beyond our differences and share our casserole dishes with each other. Living in Respectful Presence of All is a reachable goal we can obtain. Rev Sam