Faith: How to not judge a book by its cover
Some of us have been raised on the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” which is easier said than done.
This was brought home afresh to me when walking the Camino De Santiago – an ancient pilgrimage of about 800 kilometres along the top of north-west Spain.
Not long after reaching the literal and symbolic high point – La Cruz de Ferro (which turned out to be a significant sacred moment) – we started our descent feeling much refreshed in spirit.
The rugged stony pathway with enormous steep drops alongside required intent focus on where one placed each step. Although the views were spectacular, my legs were shaking as I tried desperately not to fall. I was relieved to catch up with my husband, who was resting with two Spanish men, one of whom looked quite intimidating, holding a large wooden staff reminiscent of ancient pilgrims.
When we resumed, the Spaniards started out with us. Thinking the hardest stretch was over, I was happy to meander slowly behind. It soon was apparent that the steepest stretch was yet to come.
The only other person in sight was the Spaniard carrying the huge wooden staff. Suddenly he started swinging it wildly back and forth sending clouds of dirt and dust swirling in my direction.
I stopped occasionally, hoping to put some space between me and the guy who seemingly had some significant anger issues but he too would stop, turn around and blurt out a few sentences in rapid Spanish with one eyebrow raised.
My Spanish extended only to ordering a glass of red wine, which proved not terribly helpful in the current context. He could have been asking whether I wanted to be put out of my misery or if I was travelling OK. In hope more than knowledge I responded, “Si Senor, Gracias”, invoking a nod then a resumption of the swinging of the huge wooden staff as we climbed down a slope more suited for abseiling.
It was a terrifying half-hour before the penny dropped. That dear man was actually attempting to clear the trail so that I didn’t trip unnecessarily on loose rocks or tree roots, watching over me until I was safely out of danger. I had totally misjudged him.
Too many times my response has been shaped by fear of someone because of their initial appearance.
The example of Jesus, who hugged the leper, engaged an outcast woman in conversation, invited himself into the home of the tax collector, and continued to look past the externals to engage the person, is very hard to follow.
Not judging a book by its cover takes a bit of faith in humanity – seeing the person created in the image of God rather than being consumed by media-driven assumptions related to skin colour, mode of dress, or where someone sleeps at night.
It is a lesson that needs to be learned over and over.
Evelyn Heard is a Melbourne writer.
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