At Starbucks with friends this past Monday, I found myself offering that to speak the words "I love you" is also to say "I can learn from you." Is that true? On what grounds does one say that?
Of course, if "I can learn from you" is worth exploring at all, it is only because there are so many times when we are tempted to assume the opposite: that I cannot possibly learn anything new or insightful from my encounter with you. While subtler in paternalistic forms, reflection reveals this extreme position to be nothing short of demonic: "There is no good in you."
Pope Benedict XVI has publicly lamented the present generation's apparent inability to learn from those with whom we disagrees. He observes that the highest compliment we seem capable of giving each other these days is some version of "Yes, that's exactly what I think about this. I'm glad you said what I already know." Pope Benedict suggests that there is a poverty in excluding the possibility of productive disagreement - something like: "Yes, I agree with some of that, but I'll have to think on the rest of what you've said. Maybe you can tell me more."
This has me believing that "interested" is an underrated adjective. "I am interested in you." I see that I stand to learn something from you. What a gift.
In the baptismal covenant, we promise to "seek and serve Christ in all persons." Admittedly, this game of hide and seek is more difficult in some people than in others. During my summer as a student chaplain at a psychiatric hospital, many were the conversations that led to the silent prayer: "Lord, where are you here?" I would sit and seek, with words, in silence, learning the hidden face of God. And yet, even in difficulty, the baptismal vow does not back down: "in ALL persons." In all persons. Christ to be found.
If Christ is to be found - Truth himself alive! - in the person before me, I understand Desmond Tutu in a new way when he says, "My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours." We belong in a bundle of life. We say, 'A person is a person through other persons.'"
I can learn from you, find Christ alive in you. I can be grown by my life shared with you. And someday I will understand this truth not as a concession to my pride and illusions of independence but as the miracle that it is: the seed of my own conversion; the gift of love that learns.