Welcoming the Stranger

Article by Mary Be a Sullivan, Edited by Dee DeWitt


Nestled in my favorite green chair, warmed by the fire and MIss White’s hand-sewn quilt, I was enjoying an unusually peaceful evening alone.


Suddenly the stillness was shattered by a low, snarling growl from my dog, Daisy…


Hesitantly, I stood up to turn the outside light on when I spotted the object of Daisy’s over-zealous protection – a raccoon swinging from one of the bird feeders on the deck.


My involuntary reaction was disgust.  Those stupid raccoons make such a mess!  Ugh!  What a waste of bird seed!


I was about to shoo the intruder away when I paused for an instant.  Instead of a messy pest I noticed a sweet face staring back at me and returned his gaze.  Stillness hovered under the moon-lit sky as we silently watched one another.  Looking into his eyes, I began to soften…


Where there was repulsion, there was now attraction.  Moments before, yelling at the raccoon seemed the most appropriate response; now that I knew him, that felt like a cruel way to treat a fellow creature.


Enchanted by his masked face and calm response to my presence, I smiled and went inside for the camera.  The raccoon compliantly posed as I clicked away – staring directly into the camera. I couldn’t wait to show Malcolm the photos of our late-night visitor.


What a contrast from my initial, enraged response.


Practice: Welcoming the Stranger

Sit quietly for a few minutes.  Take a few breaths.  Relax.  Enjoy the quiet.  Imagine a sense of spaciousness as you breathe in and out.  


Consider how you usually respond to strangers.  Do you tend to be welcoming, trusting, curious? Are you frightened by people who are different than you? Are you judgmental of customs and cultures unlike your own?  Are you quick to invite someone new into your “circle,” or, are you comfortable with your current cadre of companions?  Is there a particular person or type of person who you tends to invoke a strong response from you?  Who?  Why?


Spend a few minutes with how you feel about strangers, or people you think of as “strange.” 


What would it be like if you took a little time to get to know one person who is currently a stranger to you?


If you would like to develop a habit of welcoming try one of these exercises:  In the course of your day, look for, or create an opportunity to reach out to someone you normally would keep at bay. Maybe you could go out of your way to smile at or speak to someone who you normally would ignore. Perhaps there is someone in your life that you have avoided getting to know, would you want to call that person and reach out?


Remember … We are all “the stranger” at one time or another.


So enjoy the opportunity to “welcome the stranger” and open to the gifts that may unfold.


“Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God’s handwriting – a wayside sacrament.  Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every fair flower, and thank God for it as a cup of blessing.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson


Mary Bea Sullivan is the author of Dancing Naked Under the Moon – Uncovering the Wisdom Within, a compelling story about her pilgrimage toward wholeness.  She facilitates spiritual retreats and workshops for women’s groups and faith communities.  Mary Bea lives with her husband, Malcolm Marler, and their yellow (white really) lab, Daisy, on Smith Lake in Alabama. For more information about Mary Bea Sullivan and her work, please visit www.MaryBeaSullivan.com.


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Posted on 9 March, 2010 in Gratitude, Making the Day Count
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