While reading Annie Dillard’s intriguing book “Teaching a Stone to Talk,” a line jumped out at me: “We are here to witness.” That word “witness” brought back a flood of memories and feelings from my childhood.
Like most folks who grew up in a Baptist church, the command of Jesus, “you shall be my witnesses,” had special meaning to me. Almost from the time I could walk and talk, I was taught that I was supposed to be a witness, taking every opportunity to tell others about Jesus.
Sometimes it was joyfully easy, but on most occasions it was awkward and downright embarrassing. It produced a lot of guilt and even shame when I was silent or when the result wasn’t positive. As I grew older, I found that when I had the courage to do it my way, witnessing could be satisfying. But when I tried to do it artificially or someone else’s way, it was a disaster.
So it was with all of this baggage that I continued to read what Dillard had written about being a witness. To my surprise, she introduced me to another side of witnessing – being a discerning observer of life as it goes on around us.
One of our most important roles as human beings is to watch, to witness. “If we were not here,” she writes, “material events like the passage of seasons would lack even the meager meaning we are able to muster for them. The show would play to an empty house, as do all falling stars in the daytime. That is why I take walks: to keep an eye on things.”
Reflecting on my witnessing experiences, I might have done a better job if I had looked and listened more before I tried to speak. Careful watching and reflecting are prerequisites to good reporting. On the other hand, half-baked truth tends to create more heat than light.