But what is worship? –to do the will of God-that is worship. And what is the will of God? – to do to my fellow man what I would have my fellow man to do to me – that is the will of God. Now, Queequeg is my fellow man. And what do I wish that this Queequeg would do to me? Why, unite with me in my particular Presbyterian form of worship. Consequently, I must then unite with him in his…”
-Herman Melville, from Moby Dick
At the beginning of Melville’s epic novel, Ishmael meets Queequeg—a pagan who sells dried heads, a cannibal covered in tattoos, and a prince from a remote Polynesian island. He couldn’t be any more different from Ishmael. Throughout the novel, Queequeg teaches Ishmael about bravery, loyalty, generosity and true friendship, and Ishmael is forced to question his bias and preconceptions of the other.
The challenge of engaging with those different from us is not new, and nor are the various responses. In Ishmael’s case, he decides that he must turn idolater. Others in the book make false assumptions about Queequeg and deem him to be dangerous and unintelligent. Many of us would probably not choose to become idolaters; yet nor would we choose to judge others and isolate ourselves from them. Where’s the balance?
I love that Ishmael starts with thinking about what he would want, and that is what he offers to Queequeg. Maybe it would be helpful for us to sit and think about what we want—acceptance, validation, peace, respect. And, maybe we could then try our best to give that to others.
Our differences make us beautiful. We need all of us. I think the words of the beautiful Rav Kook express this sentiment:
I love all;
I cannot but love all:
All the nations
From my very depth, I want the glory of all,
The perfection of all.
May we pray for the perfection of all.