The Grace of Accompaniment: To Be is To Be with Another

One of the things I see in the mall that makes me hopeful for the future is the sight of families. You see them exiting the cinema halls, excitedly sharing their critiques of the film they watched together. You see these families dining in restaurants or at the food court, busy with their respective plates but never an idle time as each is conversing with one another. Or just the sight of families trudging along the hallway of the mall with parents leading, young children trying to keep pace while holding their parents’ hands, and older kids busy on their phones, at the same time keeping an eye out front lest they lose sight of the group.

It may be hazardous to say that next to the church, the mall has become a significant place to gather as a family. Although the mall caters to a wide range of needs and interests, targets all age groups, social strata and financial budget, there’s something beautiful when all concerns are met as a family, in the spirit of togetherness.

Although there are some occasions when each goes his or her separate way, like moms going to the grocery, dads getting a haircut, teenage children in various shops and small kids at amusement places, they enter the mall as a family, and then leave the mall as a family.

These sights remind us that despite differences, we can be together. And that this togetherness adds more joy to our individual interests and concerns. Somehow in getting things done, it’s always better with others, as a family. One of the Christian existentialist philosophers, Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973), calls this esse est coesse, “to be is to be with another”.

What makes us truly human is not that we simply exist, but that we exist always in a meaningful relationship with others whose value we recognize and appreciate. If there’s truth in the statement that “no man is an island unto itself”, this truth lies deep in the waters that separate higher lands because beneath these waters of separation is the seabed that connects each island. An island exists sharing deep connection with other islands: esse est coesse.

In the Christian biblical tradition, human persons are created in God’s image and likeness (see Genesis 1:26-27). Humanity was created with the imprint of the tri-personality of God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Each person carries the image of the Trinity in oneself. We make the sign of the cross, and say “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” to remind us that we were created (esse) in the image of the togetherness (coesse) of the persons of the Trinity. Because of this, no single person can exhaust the image of God in oneself.

Indeed, humanity reflects better the beauty of its Creator in togetherness, as a nation, as friends, as a family, and ultimately, as a Church. When sin entered the world, the first consequence of sin was the breakdown of this togetherness of creation that was reflecting the primordial togetherness of the Triune God. Sin ruptured the relationship that exists between God, humanity, and creation.

The tempter serpent convinced humanity that we can be separate from God, can become another god, an alternative god (Genesis 3:4). If sin is the splintering of this deep connectedness that constitute God and creation, then the story of redemption is about the gradual restoration of this togetherness.

Salvation history is the slow but sure rehabilitation of the fractured inseparableness amongst humanity and creation with God. This mission of restoration is called accompaniment⏤the intentional act of going along or journeying with another. No wonder we have this inclination towards being with others.

We must not impede ourselves of this natural phenomenon for it is a gateway for virtues such as generosity, kindness and the like can transpire. A close reading of the pages of the Bible will reveal that each book after the Fall, is a story of accompaniment, a journeying together towards the sharing in the eternal life of God. The banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden was but the starting point of a “journey back home” for all humanity. The great events of Exodus were testaments of God accompanying his people Israel out of their slavery from Egypt.

Remember how Mary accompanied Elizabeth in her pregnancy? She knows Elizabeth needed someone to talk to, listen through her ordeals of pregnancy, and Elizabeth understands as well (even more) Mary’s ordeal. Today more than ever, we need men and women who, on the basis of their experience of accompanying others, are familiar with processes which call for prudence, understanding, and patience. We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing.

Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur. That subtle concern and caring should be exhibited among families. Even the mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus is the most sublime manifestation of Divine Accompaniment: God-with-us. Emmanuel.

This art of accompaniment is basically the art of support, and also means to expend time. The great teacher of expending time is Jesus! He expended time to support, to have con-sciences mature, to heal wounds, to teach. To support is to journey together.

If life is a journey (esse), journeying in togetherness, in the company of others (coesse), makes the travel much fun, worth it, rewarding and salvific. Returning to the image that begins this article, one can do one’s errands alone in a mall, but the tasks that we do become more joyful, not in aloneness, but together with our significant others, our friends and families.

We find in the beautiful story of Ruth and Naomi the words that constitute a refrain to any song of accompaniment, that in whatever walk of life, through days and nights, that one journeys together is more salvific and Godly: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God”. (Ruth 1:16 NIV) (Fr. Kenneth Masong, PhD.)

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