Spiritual Practice


Andrew Garland Breeden

Several years ago I dog sat for a friend. My friend has many Jewish neighbors, and I would often see them walking from their homes to the synagogue nearby. One day while walking my friend’s dogs, I passed a house with an elderly gentleman sitting on the front porch. He recognized the dogs from the neighborhood, called to them, and invited us to visit with him. He wore a yarmulke; and since it was Friday afternoon, I figured that he was preparing to go to Shabbat service later that evening.

While the man and I talked, his cell phone rang. He answered it and told the person on the other end that he was sitting on his porch talking to an old friend. I remember thinking, What a wonderful sentiment. I had just met the man, but something in his demeanor made me feel as if it were true—that we had known each other for a long time.

When the phone call ended, he asked me to stay and have dinner with him and his family. I declined the invitation, perhaps a little too self-conscious about being around people with different religious rituals and traditions from my own—afraid that I might say or do the wrong thing. We continued to talk for a few minutes, and then I left.

This brief encounter has remained strong in my memory. I am still moved by the man’s invitation and by his hospitality. I was a total stranger to him, yet he called me an “old friend” and invited me into his home within minutes of our meeting. I don’t know that I would have thought to extend the same invitation to someone I had just met.

I don’t know to what extent his faith informed his actions, but I do know that his actions have informed my faith and the way that I want to behave toward others—especially strangers. What if we all treated one another with the same welcoming spirit that this man showed me? What difference could it make in our communities and in the world?

This experience reminded me that I always have something to learn from those who are different from me—be it a difference in age, faith tradition, or social position. My cloud of witnesses includes all kinds of people—from different generations, from other parts of the country and the world, people with ideas and opinions different from my own, and people of other faiths.

My cloud of witnesses is full of people who do not necessarily look, think, or act like me. It includes the hardworking farmers in the rural community where I live, all of whom are examples of fortitude, commitment, and extraordinary faith. It includes the poets and scholars from my college days who taught me how to think critically and communicate with respect and integrity. It includes family members who have shown me time and time again the rewards of perseverance and humility. And now it includes an elderly Jewish man, whom I just happened to encounter on an afternoon walk, who showed me how to make a stranger feel as welcome as an old friend.


devozine group smiles TS 86521081DIG DEEPER

In the week ahead, think about the people whose lives and faith inform your own. Whom do you include in your cloud of witnesses? Why? Whom might you include now that you hadn’t already? What attitudes and actions has your cloud of witnesses modeled for you that you would like to cultivate in your own life?

Andrew Garland Breeden is Acquisitions Editor of The Upper Room magazine, and he lives in Charlotte, Tennessee. He enjoys hiking, playing golf, and just about any other outdoor activity.

—from devozine (September/October 2019). Copyright © 2019 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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