Namaste

A few minutes ago, I drafted a ridiculous piece called, “What the hell, social media?” Fortunately, I decided that is the exact wrong way to begin a week, so I’m going to take a different approach.

I don’t remember when I first learned the word namaste, but I remember feeling instantly transfixed by it. Namaste is a Hindi word derived from Sanskrit, and it translates literally to, “I bow to you.” In Hinduism it means “I bow to the divine in you,” and it’s most often expressed with a slight bow and with palms pressed together near the chest, fingers pointing up. I’ve also heard it explained as “the God in me sees the God in you.”

Now, before I go on, I need to address cultural appropriation. If I understand the phrase correctly, it describes situations in which one culture adopts and uses certain aspects of another culture. More specifically, it involves people from a dominant culture swiping bits of culture from the people they’ve oppressed; think white folks wearing dreadlocks or cornrows. (This is a really simple explanation; I encourage you to read “What’s Wrong with Cultural Appropriation” by Maisha Johnson. It’ll answer the question that I’m guessing just popped into your head.)

By bringing up namaste I’m not suggesting we run to the mall after work and pick up a sari or kurta from Earthbound Trading Company. I’m not even recommending we add the word to our vocabulary or walk around bowing to everyone.

However, I am proposing that we adopt the namaste posture—the interpersonal one, not physical one. What would our families, workplaces, schools, neighborhoods, communities, and countries look like if we were able to recognize the divine nature of the people with whom we share space?

Namaste isn’t bound by a particular faith system or culture; we can see the “divine” in multiple ways. When I say I see the divine in you, I’m saying that I see you as a person of inherent worth, one who carries around a tiny piece of God. But your divine might look totally different from that; yours might have something to do with nature or metaphysics.

The point is that by adopting the namaste posture, we’re committing to look past the junk we display out in the open, and we’ll keep looking until we see the healthy, vibrant core of every human being whom we encounter. Of course, this is more or less difficult depending on who’s standing before us. Close friends? Easy. Family members? Depends on which one. Neighbors? The one who keeps parking his truck directly across from my driveway? He’s pushing it. Same with the guy who turned on his Christmas lights yesterday.

What about people with radically different political views? How about those who are unkind to the people who are dearest to us? People who’ve wronged us in the past—over and over again? Refugees? Someone who’s taken something—or someone—from us? Muslims? Christians? Atheists? People who say terrible, awful, hateful things on social media? Someone who flies a Confederate flag? Someone who supports gay marriage—and is extremely vocal about it?

What about a terrorist?

Can we find the divine in a terrorist? 

I don’t know about other faith systems, but Jesus was clear about loving our enemies, and I can’t think of a stronger enemy than those who’ve brought such horror and grief to people in Paris, Beirut, Kenya, and countless other human hearts. I don’t want to bow my head to someone who has slaughtered even one person. I don’t want to see the divine in him.

And yet, Jesus says to love him. The only way I can possibly do that is by searching deep for the spark of the divine. The one that looks just like mine.

Namaste.

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