She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”
You probably know that I love a good opportunity to challenge the American ethnocentric lie that our country and its dominant customs are better than everywhere else. Our assumptions of supremacy too often make us miss the ways that God's beauty can be seen through so many cultures, tribes, and priorities. So this week we're hopping continents.
Let's think about greetings for a moment. I know, it's weird. But as far as greetings go, a Hi-how-are-ya without waiting for an answer... is just rather uninspiring. Last week, however, I learned of a beautiful phrase that is one of the most common greetings in South Africa among the Zulu people.
When someone passes a friend on the street or invites someone into their house, a simple word is offered as a greeting: Sawubona.
It's loaded word, but the root image of Sawubona is based on noticing. It translates to "we see you." And while it may be used on the street just like our "what's up?" the understanding that it represents is far richer.
Sawubona is a way of looking at someone and communicating, my attention is with you. I am noticing who you are and welcoming your presence with all your uniqueness, your needs, your imperfections, and your value. We share this space together.
What a way to say hi! And what a reflection of God's heart. I was reminded of the story of Hagar, an enslaved woman who fled while pregnant after being forced to bear the first child of Abram, and then hated by Sarai for exactly what she was forced to do. She is alone and scared when God meets her. God promises her protection and blessing in her suffering. And then she does something no one else in the Bible does. She names God personally. She calls God El Roi. It means, "the God who Sees."
She met God, and what she heard was, "we see you." Sawubona.
Jesus fully embodies the God who Sees. Throughout his ministry, he notices the people no one else notices. And he takes the time to really see them. He desires to know and care about what is happening to them, and about what's going on underneath the surface. His interactions with them communicate his attention and their value. People walked away from those encounters knowing they had been truly seen.
We are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. What if we greeted one another each day by saying "I see you" to those we bumped into?
Or more importantly, what if we really did see them?
It's difficult to shift our focus from ourselves and fully see our neighbors. But when we slow down and recognize their complicated, imperfect, wonderful uniqueness, we learn grace and community. Maybe we'll even start to believe that God sees us this way too-- with full attention, filled with grace, and desiring to enter into our story. Wow.
I'm trying to work at really seeing people. And, when the Spirit leads, I am trying to be willing to share that I see them, and that they are loved and valuable. What a privilege that we are united with the God who sees, and the God who loves! So we, as the people of Jesus, have the power to give that gift to others. A culture marked by sawubona can change how people experience the Body of Christ. Let's be willing to open our eyes.
Jesus, thank you for seeing me. Don't let me overlook others today.
*Painting by artist Kowie Theron, entitled Sawubona