Recently, we began a series here on my blog about the six tasks of catechesis, focusing on the notion that God is calling each of us to fulfill a role that he has planned for us. Just as actors rely on certain strategies to immerse themselves in character, we too rely on certain strategies to “immerse” ourselves in the role that God is calling us to fill: the “best version of ourselves” (to borrow a phrase from Matthew Kelly). We call these strategies the Six Tasks of Catechesis. Today, we look at task number 5: Preparing to Live in Community by looking at how actors practice the skill of “observation.”
Observation – Actors will tell you that their craft is simply an extension of everyday human behavior in which we move and interact with others. With that in mind, actors strive to pay close attention to the nuances, quirks, and foibles of people’s behavior in everyday life. Actors learn to become keenly aware of how people behave, feel, speak, and think and, in doing so, they find inspiration for their performance. In essence, actors, through their careful observance of others, learn to put themselves in other people’s shoes. By paying attention to little details about people’s behavior, actors get a better understanding of the lives of others. This is a crucial skill to bring to the stage because the overall success of a scene depends on the actions, reactions, and interactions of the performers on stage. In essence, “acting is communal, and successful performance depends utterly on the stimulation you receive from and give to your fellow actors.” (Acting Is Believing, p 86)
Discipleship, likewise, is communal. Followers of Christ are not solo performers; we are members of a troupe. The role that you and I are called to fulfill is to resemble the image and likeness of God, in whose image and likeness we are made, and it just so happens that our God is communal. God’s very essence – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; three Persons in One God – is relational. The bond between the three Persons of the Trinity is so intimate, that God is One. We reflect the image of God most effectively by being relational and Jesus radically expanded the sphere of those with whom we are called to relate by redefining what it means to be neighborly (Lk 10:25-37). We need to practice being a good neighbor by showing mercy to those in need, and that begins by practicing observation – paying close attention to the needs of others just as God has paid attention to our pleas for help and has faithfully responded with mercy.
Strategy #5: Be Neighborly – Christianity is not a “me and God” experience: it is a “we and God” experience. Discipleship calls us into communal life, removing the boundaries that we like to place on who we consider as neighbor. The simplest way to practice neighborliness is to be observant of the needs of others and to respond when possible. This does not mean the introverts have to become extroverts. It simply means that we need to recognize that the role we are being called to fulfill in God’s story of salvation is not a solo act and that we are not in competition with those whom we are sharing the stage, Rather, we are dependent on one another for the overall success of the “performance” and we are responsible for noticing and responding to the needs of those we encounter within the normal parameters of our day. Showing mercy need not be of “biblical” proportions. In other words, you don’t have to find a homeless person and share the clothes off your back. You can show mercy by noticing that a co-worker needs a little help completing a project or by noticing that your spouse seems a bit overwhelmed by a task. These opportunities will pass us by if we are like the rich man in Jesus’ story (Lk 16:19-31) who fails to notice the hungry Lazarus sitting at his gate: mercy begins with practicing observation. Most of our failures to live as disciples of Jesus are sins of omission.