The first time I spoke to Naomi was after our inaugural Christian Imagination class in Regent College. We were invited to Thanksgiving dinner in her home a few months later, and we had such a lovely time feasting and fellowshipping there.
I've always been struck by Naomi's vivacious nature whenever I talk to her or see her talking to someone (oops, girl-crush moment right here). She has a wicked sense of humour, a thoughtful and reflective spirit, and the ability to make a roomful of people sniffle with her poetry. So I was obviously over the moon that she agreed to write something for this humble little space.
If you've ever felt overlooked, underappreciated or excluded - read on, and be blessed by Naomi's words.
There are two ways of walking into a room – either by saying here I am or there you are. Steve Garber, a professor I deeply respect, said this last term, and – as is often the case with things that somehow just ring true – I find myself returning to it again and again. This morning I’m sitting with this statement again, reflecting on my own posture in light of it.
We are still somewhat new in Vancouver, meaning there are still many new and unfamiliar ‘rooms’ that we are walking into. I would like to think that when we do, I fall into the latter category; that I am someone whose instinct is always to love, that I am secure enough, free enough to adopt such a generous posture toward everyone I meet. But of course, even a moment of reflection will tell me that this is not always the case. Human as I am, I know that sometimes my insecurity gets the better of me and my question is overwhelmingly: will anyone see me? before it is: there you are. What makes it harder in this season is that so few people really know us, meaning that there is a temptation to say ‘here I am!’ in order that people might get to know us better, understand us, accept us, love us.
Of course, if I look around there are plenty of examples of both ‘ways of being’ in the world – embodied in different people and circumstances. I’m currently reading Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow and in it is a character by the name of Troy Chatham. Masterful character-crafter that Berry is, it is often painful to read his description of Chatham and the way that he ‘talk[s] about himself as if he were the subject of a news broadcast’. In his desperate loneliness – of which he has convinced himself he is unaware – Chatham fails to see the people around him; trampling over their dignity and personhood, their griefs and their loves and their hopes. Despite being perhaps slightly two-dimensional at times, he is the epitome of one who moves through the world with a posture of here I am. And then I think of people like my grandmother, Oma, who in her quiet and unassuming way embodies a way of being in the world which is entirely at odds with that of Troy Chatham. Which kind of person am I? I wonder. And, of course, this question ultimately comes down to: am I good or bad?
But this morning I notice that the statement says there are ‘two ways of walking into a room’. It says nothing about ‘types of people’. It is not suggesting that there are two types of people in the world – the Troys and the Omas – reducing us to dualistic caricatures.
What a relief. Because I know that while I am human, I am, by definition, a jumbled mess of contradictions. I am unswervingly both-and, not either-or. I sometimes, by the grace of God, walk into a room with a posture that exclaims with love and with curiosity: there you are! And just as true is that sometimes I walk into a room like Troy Chatham, unable to step outside of my own insecurity, my own aches and longings. Yes, of course – I am both selfish and selfless, dirt and glory, dust and the very image of God.
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It strikes me as such a moving thing that God’s first words after Adam and Eve alienated themselves from him were: where are you? While we humans may oscillate relentlessly between here I am and there you are, God’s very nature is to adopt a posture of there you are: a posture of love. God is one who waits expectantly at the end of the road for his prodigal beloveds to appear on the horizon. The one who sits on the edge of a well with a hurting woman and sees her as no one has before. Whose first words when we hide ourselves in shame are: where are you? If we believe that it is God’s very nature to adopt a posture toward us of there you are, we can hear the anguish in his question: where are you? God longs to provide us with an eternal assurance of belonging and yet we have shut our ears to it in shame. And by shutting our ears in this way, we find ourselves east of Eden – our whole lives now centred around trying to hear that assurance, to find that belonging again.
And so we search everywhere for love and for acceptance. We curate our social media accounts and get tattoos of inspirational quotes. We become slaves to self-improvement and buy fair trade. We strive to make a difference in the world – a good thing in and of itself – but find that it is too often tinged with selfishness, with a need to be accepted, to be seen and to belong. We walk into rooms declaring here I am! in the hope of chasing that echo of assurance from Eden of: there you are.
But then – every now and again – we catch a glimpse of glory on the horizon. We find ourselves in a thin place where we remember, where we know deep in our bones that we are not in fact chasing an echo from Eden. That the One whose voice spoke those words of love over us in the very beginning has followed us out of the Garden. Has gone ahead of us and waits for us at the end of the road – squinting into the sunlight – before running toward us arms wide open with an ecstatic exclamation: Oh, beloved, there you are. I’ve been waiting for you.
My name gives a clue as to the English and Japanese in me but my favourite thing about it is the Hebrew meaning: “pleasant”, a reminder that somehow I am pleasing to my Creator. My heart is a little bit in the bustle of London where I lived for 7 years, a little bit in the cherry-tree’d loveliness of Japan where my mother is from, and a little in the wide open spaces of my husband’s native Western Canada where we are now making our home. I am currently studying at Regent College in Vancouver – a dream several years in the making – and feel wildly thankful for it. You can find me on my blog naomipw.com or on Instagram @naopwilliams