Ivan Ilich was a Croatian-Austrian philosopher and Roman Catholic priest. Excerpted from here. The photo is Mister Rogers and Francois Clemmons -- background story here.
SEED QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: How do you relate to the notion that your neighbor is someone you decide, not someone you have to choose? Can you share a personal story of a time you created a sacred form of relatedness with someone else? What helps you go beyond the limits of your conditioning to truly create relatedness with another?
Here's my take on this text as a preacher: Jesus was saying "Your neighbor is the person you least want to be 'beholden to'." That's a colloquialism from my youth growing up in Appalachian USA. So I totally agree with Ivan Ilich!
I've not felt like I had to chooose which one I'd want for a neighbor. I do know my heart will tell me who my neighbor or is though.
'My neighbor is someone I decide' means to me that my neighbor is someone I decide to relate to with true care and in a way that helps him or her have what is needed to heal and/or grow. There have been times that I have listened carefully, responded in a way that was respectful, responded in a way that the other felt safe, responded in a way that connected with the othier, provided what was needed, and the other benefitted. Such times were sacred forms of relatedness with the other. What helps me create relatedness with another is to truly be present with the other and listen to and respond to what the other is presenting, not to my tlhinking, prejudices, expectations, agendas, or judgments, which allows intimate healing sacred relatedness.
Ivan Ilich offers a different way of knowing who is our neighbor and I love it. Relating to some one, a stranger, even an enemy, without preconceived and conditioned notions about who is my neighbor is the right way of creating sacred relatedness. Such relationship is created by turning in, by seeing with clear eyes and by listening to the inner voice, the voice of the heart. As Ivan Ilich states, "There is no way of categorizing who my neighbor ought to be" and my neighbor,"whom I decide to, not whom I have to choose."
I came to America in 1959 at the age of 34 to study at the University of Chicago, a strange city in a strange country with no friends and friendly neighbors and very cold freezing cimate. I was going through mild depression. There was another student from Poland staying in the same building on the second floor. As I was going out to go to school on a very cold morning, he noticed me with compassionate eyes. He faced me and extended his emotionally warm hands. He touched my hands and said,"Consider me your brother!" His touch and words removed the fog of my depression. He was 7 feet tall,I am 5 and a half feet tall. He was all white. I am all brown. He was Catholic. I am a Hindu. He was from Poland. I am from India. All these outer barriers vanished, He became my good Samaritan neighbor. He has passed away. He dwells in my heart.
What has helped me to go beyond my conditioning to create a sacred form of relationship is an ongoing awareness of the walls and boundaries I create in my own mind. This way of relating myself to myself with awareness and releasing my inner boundaries helps me to relate to others in an open and free way.. It goes beyond my self- created boundaries caused by conditioning and ignorance. This is an ongoing promising journey.
May we cultivate an attitude of relating to a stranger with awareness, with an open mind and an open heart!
Ivan Illich, an exiled Russian in Mexico, would know what he is talking about. He had to redefine "family" and "neighbor" in order to have a life in community instead of an exile of alienation. Thank you for reminding me of one of my heros from my youth. Indeed, Illich provoked new definitions, thinking and behvior in me, precisely, because he forced me to realize how connected I was to all of society and humanity, not just those who looked like me or lived/thought/assumed the same way. Like Illich, my life and thinking expanded the more I met and befriended 'the other.'