For a lot of my life, I have lived as a sort of hermit, holding myself separate from others, reluctant to engage in the messiness of life, afraid to be wrong, to fail, to incur disapproval.

There have been brief forays of engagement — a part of me has always desired connection with other people — but I've had a hard time getting out of my phone booth. That's the metaphor I use for the self-imposed walls within which I exist much of the time. I can see out, but I can't reach out. Time has done a lot to erode those walls, but they are still more present than I wish they were.

My work as a reporter has helped with this, throwing me regularly into the company of people I wouldn't meet by choice, developing my ability to talk to strangers, cultivating my interest in people's stories. It has been good for me to have to call people I don't know on the phone and ask them questions they sometimes don't want to answer. It reminds me that no one is above being questioned, and that I'm not responsible for either the content of the answer, or even whether one is given.

Preaching, as it turns out, is good for me, too. I care a lot about the spiritual dimension of life — my own, and others' — and I want to share what I have received from studying and reflecting on scripture. My bedrock is God's love — the pursuit of others' ultimate good that characterized the earthly life of Jesus — which is the calling of all people. When I'm immersed in expressing that love so that my hearers can not just understand it, but feel it, I am fully present — the phone booth disappears.

And over and over again, what I take away from scripture is that we are meant to be people who show up. By that I mean people who engage with the needs of others, who do what needs to be done. When someone is sick, they go visit them; when someone loses a loved one, they bring over a casserole; when someone has sky-high medical bills, they organize a public supper to raise money for them; when a neighbor is in a car accident, they offer a ride. And they don't do these things in order to think well of themselves, or even just because it's the right thing to do. They do it because deep down, at the soul level, at the level where the spark of the divine in each of us lives, we are one. To care for you is to care for myself is to care for God.

That is what loving your neighbor "as yourself" really means: not loving your neighbor as much as you love yourself, but as yourself — the apparent separation is an illusion born of our passing existence in space and time. When we transcend these dimensional constraints, we will be as drops of water in the ocean — one.

I practice growing into this realization when I visit at the hospital. What I actually do there is of secondary importance. The primary thing, the thing that matters most, is that I show up with a willing heart. If I am awkward or wise, quiet or talkative, it is all material that Spirit can use. I am there to be healed as much as to bring healing, because healing is a two-way street. When I meet fully, or as fully as I can, with another person, Spirit is present, and healing happens.

And, amazingly, it happens whether I know it or not, and regardless of whether I feel that I have offered anything of value. This is my school of the heart and spirit, and I am grateful for what is offered and what is received.

I hope you, too, know the soul-filling feeling of being a person who shows up. It's never too late to become one.