Masthead for Organization Anonymous

Who Do You Recognise?

Christina Noble was 10 when her mother died. She was sent to an orphanage, where she was told that her siblings were dead. They weren’t.

By the time she was 12 she was living on Dublin’s streets, where she was gang-raped and left pregnant. A forced adoption and an abusive marriage followed.

“Naked children were running down a dirt road fleeing from a napalam bombing…” Armstrong quotes (164), “one of the girls had a look in her eyes that implored me to pick her up and protect her and take her to safety. Above the escaping children was a brilliant light that contained the word ‘Vietnam’.”

This dream birthed the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation, which is committed to the alleviation of child poverty in Vietnam and Mongolia. Noble felt prepared to visit Vietnam in 1989, after she had become settled and successful as a caterer. “One day,” Armstrong recounts, “while she was watching two destitute girls litle girls playing… one of them smiled at her and tried to hold her hand.”

Noble’s first reaction? To pull away. Her realisations? That this was the girl in her dream. And that an Irish gutter and a Vietnamese gutter do not differ. Christina Noble became a crusader for Veitnam’s street children. Noble saw her face in the child’s. Armstrong calls this the moment of recognition. “Us” and “them” were illusions.

The realisation, the moment of recognition, developed because Christina Noble had acquired an empathetic perspective. Logic which surely would dictate that Christina Noble could best serve the Irish, but empathy is rooted in imagination rather than in logic.

When I am aware of someone else’s sorrow I can only imagine the experience. This becomes an opportunity to grow spiritually. Christina Noble discovered she could go beyond the overwhelming pain of her memories because she had a mission to help others. Two Jewish traditional stories, and one from the Christian tradition, speak to this:


Genesis 18:3


Genesis 32:25-30

The Road To Emmaus

Luke 24:13-53


God appears to an aged Abraham in a vision of three strangers. Abraham invites them in, offers them food, and shows compassion. The Jewish wisdom tradition (Avot 5:19) states “Generosity, humility, and simplicity are the hallmarks of those who conduct themselves according to our Father Abraham’s perspectives.”

Jacob fled his homeland after cheating his brother. He returns 20 years later, uncertain how he will be recieved. He divided his caravans and spends a night wrestling with an unnamed stranger. Jacob survives the encounter, obtains a blessing, and recieves a new name: Yisra’él “God Wrestler.”

Three days after the Crucifixion, troubled disciples walk the road to Emmaus. A traveler asks why they are troubled and comforts them by saying it was their Messiah’s lot to suffer. They offer hospitality rather than rebuke, the stranger passes the night with them, and they eventually realise they were in the Messiah’s company.

We learn something of Jacob’s struggle elsewhere in the Torah’s text, though, for Esau soon appears. He sees Jacob’s entourage, enquires of it, and shows great compassion when he tells his brother, by whom he was wronged, “Keep what is yours. I have plenty.” The brothers reconcile and weep in each other’s arms, when Jacob says to his brother “Seeing your face is seeing the face of God.”

The Jacob and Luke narratives are similar in one important way: we have no clear way to distinguish “one” from “the other.” Neither Jacob nor the disciples are conscious of a spiritual experience until the moment passes.

We must not let the moment of recognition pass. Bob Dylan wrote Blowin In The Wind in 1963. This poetry is still important:


How many roads must a man walk down
Before you can call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.
Yes, how many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea?
Yes, how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free? Yes, how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn’t see?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.
Yes, how many times must a man look up
Before he can really see the sky?
Yes, how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

I’m still asking these questions. The only difference now is that my hip hurts when the wind blows.

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