Labels give us a point of reference, e.g., he is a gifted linguist or she is married. Labels also serve as a veneer, masking the essence.
In making connections with faith groups, I was prepared for people to ask me what church I was coming from. I was perplexed; however, of that being the very first question upon entering almost every religious organization.
I wondered how my experience would have differed had we lived in the not knowing, for a while. If we had called upon discernment, would the other or I have been surprised? How many points of connection would we have allowed before our opinions divided us?
There was a faith community that briefly served as a quiet reprieve from my leadership role in a rapidly growing church. After a weekday liturgy, I waited to talk with the retired clergywoman who had offered the Eucharist.
I told her that I was looking for a contemplative group, preferably an ecumenical group and asked her if she knew of any. She inquired, “What church are you coming from?” As soon as she heard the name of my church she turned from me and began walking away, muttering the name of another church that was more suitable for beginners.
Never having met me, she interpreted my spiritual depth by the veneer, my Baptist label. I wanted to call out to her, “My Baptist pastor in the 60’s was in an interfaith prayer group. It’s in my DNA!”
I wanted to name the transformed that had taught me and explain that while a vocal faction had emerged stirring up fear and placing blame, these faithful souls continued to simply focus on the love and grace of God Incarnate.
I could feel myself getting hooked by her rejection, so rather than giving her an adolescent argument, I chose silence. As the clergywoman walked away, I realized an invitation, hanging there in the space between us, to be the prayer and hold the mystery.
Still standing in the hallway, I sensed Sacred within asking me to take note of my bruised emotions and to be more purposeful in looking past the veneer of others. As I have made this my practice, I have lived in moments of wonder a little longer. On occasion, I have even glimpsed of the essence.