The other night Janny and I sat on our front patio after getting all the kids down to listen to the sacred silence and debrief our day. We talked about our new neighbor hanging out in our yard to help out with the twins and reflected on the life of our little faith community while meeting another new neighbor who happened to be on an evening walk with her dog, Nelly.
We also talked about the state of our world: hostile political campaigns fighting for power, refugees caught between violence and barbed wire, our friends in the Middle East who are discouraged and exhausted, our immigrant neighbors who are growing in fear as the political climate further dehumanizes their existence, and on and on and on.
Then another neighbor would walk by. We’d say hello, chat for a few minutes, say goodnight, and the stillness of the evening would settle back in.
While there is no more important moment to be deeply engaged in the realities impacting our global family, there is also no more important moment to be fully present to the world that is pulsating right in front of us in our homes and on our streets.
There are currently dozens of national and global realities swirling around us that can cause us to fear, worry, and pour our precious energy and attention outward. Our smart phone notifications go off and we are once again a screen away from the other side of the globe or at the center of another partisan debate. What can be used as a critical asset in our global engagement quickly becomes the source of our paralysis and distances us from what is right in front of us.
What if we quiet the noise while occasionally practice putting on blinders by choosing to see only the life unfolding in our homes and on our street? What if we tune out the political posturing and tune in the laughter of children playing kickball in the street until their parents call them in for dinner? What if we tune out our role in being a hero to the world and tune in to our role of being a hero to our family and neighbors? What if we release our need to recite our candidate’s party line and embrace the gift of generous conversation and curiosity?
We aren’t abdicating our global responsibility — we are simply pausing to steward the life we have been given each day. We are re-centering ourselves in the soil and story of the unique neighborhoods where we are called to live, love, and lead in the beautiful and mundane of everyday life.
Our worlds need to get smaller if we are to engage well in the world’s bigger issues.
There is an interdependence to living as global citizens and neighborhood practitioners. We can’t be understanding and engage our world without being rooted in the identity of our own unique context.
Similarly, we can’t be embedded in our increasingly diverse neighborhoods without understanding the larger world in which we inhabit.
The monastics throughout church history offer us a beautiful model of this local-global paradox and practice. Many of the most globally engaged activists were monastics who would take entire seasons of their lives to cloister themselves in isolation to allow the Spirit to re-engage their senses, calling, and identity. Thomas Merton, Julian of Norwich, and John Dear are just a few.
When we are daily exposed to all the world’s problems without being rooted in our own soil, it’s as though a collective numbness takes us over. We lose touch of our senses, priorities, and relationships. We become more irritable. Our relationships become more mechanical and forced. Our attention span shortens. An anxiety about our individual and collective future breads paralysis. The distance between those of different cultures, traditions, and ethnicities grows. We pour more time and energy into our political allegiance than our Kingdom allegiance. We miss seeing the sacred even when it’s being displayed on the faces of our kids, sidewalks, parks, and pubs.
Maybe a Lenten practice isn’t to remove ourselves from the world, but right size our engagement of it so the numbness fades and we can feel again.
Tonight, I’ll look forward to hearing my kids breathing slow as they fall asleep, sit on the patio with Janny, and wait for our neighbor to walk by while trying to keep Nelly from peeing on our grass.
Because if I don’t live fully present to what is right in front of me, I won’t have anything of substance to contribute to my friends on my street or on the other side of the world.