Next door to us lives a Congolese family. John and Claudia (as they introduced themselves to us) have been incredibly kind and it has been lovely to get to know them little by little. About a week ago we had to get pest control in to take care of some nasty little wood borers we had (have?!) in our kitchen. We walked over to John and apologised for the smell and assured him that it will soon be gone and not harmful to their little ones. John replied saying that it is not a problem at all and that being neighbours we have to be accommodating to each other. He said, “When you move in and become our neighbour, you become our family.” Those words were warmest and most humanising welcome I have ever received from a neighbour upon moving into a new neighbourhood.
We desperately need to recover our relationships in this country as neighbours. Those who live next door to us, as well as people in our neighbourhoods and cities are meant to be our neighbours. We are not competitors, we are not threats, we are neighbours. In our consumerist, commodity-driven world it is easy for our relationships to become utilitarian and dehumanising. When others are dehumanised in this way, it is easy for us to treat them as objects to be avoided, to be traded with or simply ignore. Beholding a person as a neighbour brings restoration to their dignity and humanity. When I see the common humanity between myself and other human being, I simply cannot ignore their personhood, their story, their existence. Neighbourliness brings the hope of reconciliation.
How do we come to this point? How do we shift from merely treating people as entities we have a need for or not, to valuing them as our neighbours – or even as our family as John, our neighbour, said? As with many of the questions in life, it originates in presence and in prayer. Henri Nouwen wisely said,
“We must pray for one another. To pray for one another is, first of all, to acknowledge, in the presence of God, that we belong to each other as children of the same God. Without this acknowledgements of human solidarity, what we do for one another does not flow from who we truly are. We are brothers and sisters, not competitors or rivals. We are children of God… To pray that is, to listen to the voice of the One who calls us the “Beloved”, is to learn that that voice excludes no one. Where I dwell, God dwells with me and where God dwells with me I find all my sisters and brothers. And so intimacy with God and solidarity with all people are two aspects of dwelling in the present moment that can never be separated.”
In the presence of God and in paying attention to His voice, we can overcome the fear or the barriers that separate us from each other and we can once again become neighbours to each other…or even family…
Are your relationships mostly utilitarian or are you able to engage in neighbourliness? Who do you need to become a neighbour too? What are the practical ways of becoming neighbours to others?