She wanted us to see her face.
The rest of her was clothed in conservative dress, her hair within a hijab. Yet the blue eyes and fair complexion belonged to a young woman who'd grown up in a suburban home with a quintessential American lifestyle. She and her soft-spoken husband had volunteered immediately after 9/11 to go out to the community and talk about their faith. I was with a group of women from different Christian denominations who had asked them to speak to us.
Her story was compelling. As a college student, she'd found her spiritual home within Islam. The recent events of terrorism had stunned and saddened her but did not reflect what she herself believed. And she wanted others to understand this. When asked about exchanging Western clothes for traditional dress, she smiled and said that before, people had focused on her body. Now, they were compelled to look at her face, and that had come as a welcome change.
There was something profound in her desire to relate face to face. Isn't that how we begin to feel people see us for who we truly are? Even toddlers look into the faces of those around them, beaming back when you smile at them, or, slipping safely behind a parent's leg, peek out shyly with a little grin. There's a wordless connection of the heart made in that fleeting moment.
But too often we look past each other and lose sight of individuality and humanity.
Our daughter's first job was at a pizza place, where she had to wear the company uniform. Soon after she started, several of her friends came in and began ordering without even recognizing her. All they had seen was someone in a uniform behind the counter. When she called them by name, she actually startled them.
As a student of Christian Science, I've appreciated the emphasis on viewing everything and everyone through a spiritual lens and letting divine light illumine what the human perspective so easily misses. There's a child of God revealed as the true identity of each of us, a child of Spirit, of Truth and Love. It's definitely a discipline to keep looking for this spiritual identity when the words and actions confronting us are hateful or hurtful or simply ignorant. But the natural effect of Christian discipleship that strives to conform to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount is a life blessed with a deep and unshakable peace. Hungering and thirsting for what's universally right, cultivating meekness and humility, persistent peacemaking – all these burnish our innate spiritual qualities and enhance our awareness that God is at the center and is the circumference of our lives, all of our lives.
We can't always meet those we don't know. So when responding to someone who had hoped to visit her in person, the founder of the Christian Science church asked for something deeper: "I hope and trust that you and I may meet in truth and know each other there, and know as we are known of God" (Mary Baker Eddy, "The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," p. 120). These are the spiritual connections we make that bind hearts together and build vibrant communities.