How to love people

You have to be with someone long enough.
You have to see someone closely enough.
You have to listen – not speak – enough.

Oddly then, you will begin to see you. You in them.

At the very least, you will see in them someone whom you already love. In their eyes, their stance, their story, their quiet.

Even a glimmer is enough. Enough for love to enter its rightful place: between you and the one you have stayed with, between you and the one you have seen up close, between you and the one whose words and dreams you have heard without rehearsing your own.

Buoyed by an unburdened thought that we are walking the same land beneath one expanse, your clenched grip on things that you were so afraid to lose loosens, and you bravely fall back and lean forward into the galaxy of grace and gravity suspending all of life. A galaxy not so beyond comprehension that you are made indifferent by its vastness, but a kind of a slow, communal highway where you needn’t worry about losing things or fear getting lost because there are others beside you. They are saying: We are all here. And you are glad.

When the lines between you and me become less harsh – our boundaries more blurry than bold – our aches lose their pinching punch because there are others standing among us. Like fluffy forest absorbing bruising injury, we stand tall, we hide in safety, we speak up for one another, we cry. We become witnesses to one another’s tears. We hear still others saying: We are all here. And we are glad.

In the thick of an unrelenting pandemic and bewildering national elections, a community organizer and I were charged with a project: “create a community of belonging” among leaders in our multiethnic, multilingual, multitheological, multipolitical presbytery. During the most unlikely of seasons for such an attempt, 10 of us were gathered like siblings forced to stop what we were doing for a task we must do together. We showed up week after week with varying desires and suspicions. We each accepted the request to come, and we chose to stay.

We had only three commitments to one another: tell the truth, trust ambiguity, keep confidentiality. I learned that an honest practice of these commitments was enough for a diverse group of people to find our way toward one another.

Like leaving a messy table after mealtime, we parted our sessions denying some of us our need to tidy up, wipe the table clean and plop down that perpetual vase of realistic artificial flowers. We left unfinished conversations and unpolished fragments of ideas and of ourselves. They would remain here. Sometimes we’d return to find broken parts healed simply by receiving oxygen.

We stumbled on the usual suspects of community life: annoyance, frustration, feeling misunderstood. But anxiety around these jagged edges diminished as we realized that belonging takes away our need to be right.

Humility’s nimble strength unfurling our tired fists. We’d find that with our hands free, we could move in new ways. We can understand – stand under – someone, and we can dare to impose our need onto the support of another. Such postures engulf the pesky pebbles that impede our connections with one another.

Somewhere along this way, in the fragility of this tender belonging, across the glaring screen, I began to see people whom I love.

You have to be with someone long enough.
You have to see someone closely enough.
You have to listen enough.

Beloved, let us love.
We are all here.
We shall be glad, indeed.

Charlene Jin Lee is a practical theologian and community activist based in Los Angeles.