The sixth sense

My only excuse is that it was getting late and no one turned on the light in the foyer.

I heard voices at the front door and came around from the living room to see who was there.  My husband was talking to a tall man in a hunting jacket, both of them gesturing toward the back of the house.  The man was explaining that there were some problems with the ditch that ran behind the houses on our street.  Water was backing up after heavy rains and they were going to have to clear some brush so it would drain better.  He just wanted us to know that there would be folks behind the house in the morning working on the ditch, and not to be concerned.  I thanked the man and told him that Parrish, our next door neighbor, had spoken to me a while back and we were fine with whatever they needed to do.  The man was quiet for a moment, and then introduced himself.  It was Parrish, my neighbor.

I know what you’re thinking.  How did a person with such finely tuned people skills become a pastor?

I fear we live in a world where people are becoming increasingly invisible to us.  They are there, but not there.  The person who hands us our coffee each morning or the cashier in the grocery store.  Maybe it’s the vaguely familiar folks in the pew behind us at church.  Or sometimes even those closest to us, who share our name, our house, our street.

How do we love our neighbor when we don’t even know our neighbor?

In the psychological horror movie, “The Sixth Sense,” Haley Joel Osment spoke the haunting line, “I see dead people.”  The troubled 8-year-old had a sixth sense.  He saw people others didn’t see; dead people, still hurting from their earthly lives.

Would that we had a sixth sense for seeing people – live people — troubled, or not.  Too many feel far too invisible, afraid they could disappear and few would notice.

Jesus had a sixth sense for seeing people – hurting people, marginalized people, those others refused to see or were too busy to see.  Bartimeus.  The bleeding woman.  He knew that to see people, to stop and look them in the eye, to call them by name – gave life in a simple and powerful way.  In an amazing moment, Jesus could bring out the imago dei in those who were struggling to hold on to their humanity.

People often need so little to feel noticed, recognized, valued beyond their ability to deliver the mail or take our movie ticket.  A nod, a smile, a simple courtesy, being called by name.

Several months ago I decided to start developing my sixth sense.  In a bold move, I resolved to no longer go through the drive-thru of my favorite coffee shop each morning. I would go inside, take off my sunglasses, make eye contact, smile, read name tags and call people by name.  Radical, I know.  There would be no Parrish’s at Dunkin Donuts!  A young guy named Danny was frequently my server.  I’d smile and call him by name.  He’d look at me a little funny.  We were building a great relationship.  Until the day I asked him if he’d been on vacation because I hadn’t seen him in a while.  Call me paranoid, but every time I came in after that, Danny would find a reason to go in the back.  I think he’s transferred to another store.

Discipleship is complicated.  Peter, James and John didn’t get it right the first time, either.

Jesus wasn’t everyone’s best friend.  He only had 12close disciples.  But he noticed people along the way.  He paid attention.

Seeing people is a sixth sense.  It comes naturally for some, but for many of us it takes time and intention to develop.  It is a discipline that says, ‘No,’ to fear of the Other, the stranger, and is grounded in the belief that God’s image is stamped on all of us.

Victor Hugo wrote, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

Faith is always risky.  We may be misunderstood by young baristas and we may entertain angels unaware.  We may even find ourselves talking to our neighbor and not even know it.


Jayne Davis

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About the Author
Jayne Davis is Minister of Spiritual Formation at First Baptist Church, Wilmington, N.C. She is part of the Hopeful Imagination ministry team, encouraging churches and church leaders in a changing world. Jayne is co-author of the book Hopeful Imagination and posts on Facebook at Spiritual Formation - Along the Way and is trying to learn to Tweet, though, being from the Bronx, is paranoid about people following her.

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  • Gary Gupton

    Very nice article/blog. I used to ride the city bus often, and when I’d listen to people around me, notice moods, be outwardly polite, there were connections to ‘strangers’, who are actually my neighbors. I miss riding the bus sometimes, when strangers become your neighbors. If everyone would really ‘ride the bus’, as you said in a different way, the neighborhood, the city, the state… the world would be a better place. Thanks for your thoughts.

  • Austin Aley

    My vocation is in sales so my day to day activities involve getting to know peoples names and developing strong relationships. I think at the core for society and churches to not only survive but thrive is through deeply rooted relationships. Similarly is our relationship with Christ. The more fully we commit to an intentional relationship with HIM, the more we understand the importance and significance of loving our neighbors as ourselves…..and saying hello is a great start !! Thanks for your blog Jayne!