We have seen that the Christian understanding is that there is a Triune dance of delight at the heart of things. We have seen how the experience of that delight change us (here and here). Last week we saw that sinking our hearts into the heart of God can enable us to see the whole outside world also seemed to be full of beauty and delight.
On the 18th of March in 1958, Thomas Merton had this epiphany:
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 . . . This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. And I suppose my happiness could have taken form in the words: ‘Thank God, thank God that I am like other men, that I am only a man among others.’ It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself gloried to become a member of the human race. A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake. 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. They are not ‘they’ but my own self. There are no strangers! Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.”
― Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p. 157
Merton himself admits that this is not something we can expect to normally see. It can only be “believed and ‘understood’ by a peculiar gift.” Whether or not we receive that peculiar gift, living in the way of Jesus means engaging others as though we believed they were “shining like the sun” as beings created in the image of God and members of a race of which God Himself gloried to become a member. Might we remember that in Christ, there are no strangers? Might we practice looking for the secret beauty in one another’s heart?