While standing on a small cliff near the edge of the Guatemala city dump, surrounded by buzzards, I heard one of the most incredible stories. The story was not a new or original one but the context in which it was given, and the passion with which it was told, deeply touched me. It was the story of Hagar, the Egyptian servant to Sarai and Abram. When Sarai could not bear a child she gave her servant Hagar to her husband as a desperate effort to build a family. Hagar became pregnant and Sarai started to despise her and mistreat her. Hagar ends up fleeing into the desert to escape and to hide. It is here that this lonely, abused, homeless, and pregnant servant has an encounter. The Biblical story says that God revealed himself to her and asked, “Hagar, where have you come from, and where are you going?” In other words, “What is your story?”
Her response is beautiful and profound. She says, “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” She gave this voice the name “El Roi” which means “The God who sees.”
Joel VanDyke, who retold this story for us on the edge of the Guatemala city dump, then began teaching about the power of seeing others—really seeing them. In his book “Geography of Grace”1 VanDyke talks about how God’s grace is like water in that it settles into the lowest places. God’s grace met Hagar in her lowest place. Can we meet others in their lowest places?
Wendy Farley writes, “Many folk songs express anxiety about being a “stranger.” Again, this is not just about the empirical anxiety of being in a new place. We long to be known and recognized. We want to be “seen.” There is a sense in which we hardly exist without recognition. There is also a sense in which we remain strangers throughout our lives even to those who love us most.”2 It is a haunting sentiment isn’t it? How many people barely exist because no one seems to notice them?
After Joel VanDyke told this story, he then invited us closer to the edge of the cliff overlooking the dump and told us to pick one person to follow for 15 minutes. From our vantage point, the hundreds of people working and earning their living by salvaging trash from the dump appeared as ants. However, as I chose someone to follow, I started to notice more and more. My inner monologue went something like this: “This person is wearing a blue shirt. It is a woman. She’s talking with some people around her. Are they friends? It looks like they are laughing. How can they be laughing? Does she have children? What does she desire? Who is she? Where has she come from, and where is she going? What is her story?” My questioning continued like this as I watched her walk throughout the dump, picking things up, making piles, talking with others, going about her day.
I started to see her.
Unfortunately, this was not a mutual exchange, there was no way for me to let this woman know that I was thinking about her and that I wanted to know her story. However, this was a powerful moment for me and forever changed the way that I see the “other.”
There is something intrinsically moving about seeing and being seen. We all want to be seen, acknowledged, and noticed. How can you be the one to give this gift of noticing to someone today, tomorrow, with the way that you live your life?
Photo Credit: Lance Baker