Finding God at My Feet

Snow has begun to fall in Philadelphia.  After a flurry of morning errands, I’m sitting at my kitchen counter, savoring a third cup of coffee.  On my campus, only “essential personnel” are working.  The people who plow the snow and salt the walks—as well as those who feed our students and who ensure their safety—are all on the job.

Already this morning I’ve interacted with so many working people:  the postal service clerk who accepted the package I mailed; the man at Acme who sold me salmon for tonight’s dinner and the lady who rang it up; the woman at the corner bakery where I got some fresh bagels.  They are all at jobs from which they will have to make their way home in weather, having provided services which were lovely and convenient for me to receive, though hardly essential.  

And that’s not even to mention the largely invisible (to me) network of people hard at work doing all sorts of critical jobs:  nurses and doctors and police officers and firefighters and utility workers, to name just a few.  

I know that I haven’t posted anything in a while, so this seems like a good moment to share the chapter from my book that addresses the dignity of work and worker.  This goes out with my thanks to anyone who’s on the job today.  May you be safe, warm, appreciated, and well-compensated!

Chapter 21
Finding God at My Feet

If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. — John 13:14

“Shine your shoes, lady?”

I was in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, just south of Laredo, Texas, where I was leading a week of spring break service. My students and I were headed back to the border after experiencing the infamous bridge crossing—Mexicans going one way to work, Americans going the other way to shop. At the moment, I was busy pretending not to hear the fellow calling out to me from the street corner.

I am not a person who gets shoeshines. Having bad feet, I buy footwear that’s as practical and supportive as a good friend. And because I accept (yet resent) the fact that I am never going to skip around in pretty little flats or sexy stilettos, I generally ignore my shoes unless they hurt. But there was no ignoring this persistent young man.

“Shine your shoes?” he called again, literally running with his shoeshine kit down the block to catch up with me. “Look at your shoes!” he cried. “I’ll shine them fast, good price!” Only then did I glance at my sturdy black boots. Scuffed and dusty, they looked like something I’d fished out of a dumpster. The man had a point. I acquiesced, and he went to work—right in the middle of the sidewalk.

I was mortified. Standing there with four of my students while this young Mexican man knelt at my feet for what seemed like an eternity, I felt as conspicuous as if I had purchased a giant sombrero with the words frivolous American embroidered across the brim. Unaccustomed to being served in this manner, I prayed that no one had a camera.

Then I noticed something. He was doing a really good job. He polished and buffed vigorously; he was in the zone. The man was a professional, doing his job with flair and efficiency. My shoes had never looked better—even right out of the box.

As a further mortification, I needed to borrow money from a student to pay him—a “good price” being higher than I had expected, but worth every peso.

What lingers from that encounter is confusion about my own discomfort. The inequality I experienced as the young man knelt at my feet could have gone either way. On the one hand, I was a tourist “rich” enough to hire someone to do this menial task for me, and he was a laborer stuck hustling business in the street. But to leave it there would be to deny the dignity of work and worker. To be on the receiving end of his skill was humbling, for he was a good shoe-shiner, and I am a crummy one. He deserved his good price, and my respect. I’m glad he got both.

Think of the many people who provide services for you (trash collector, grocery clerk) and hold them in prayer, one by one. How do you show your gratitude for their good work, and respect for their dignity as children of God?

 

 

Finding God in a Flowered Housedress

I do love the story that appears in this chapter of Finding God in Ordinary Time.  I’ve been telling it for years, in the wake of a particularly moving encounter on an Alternative Spring Break experience in Savannah, Georgia in 2009.  Since Gwynedd Mercy’s own ASB teams just started their 2018 adventure, it seemed like a good time to post it.  To them I say:  May each of you find–and remember–your Rose!


Chapter 8:  Finding God in a Flowered Housedress

I have called you by name: you are mine. — Isaiah 43:1

Rose was scary. And she was scared.

She hovered in her bedroom doorway in a flowered, old-lady housedress and ratty slippers, her chopped-off hair looking like it had been styled in an asylum. Eyes full of suspicion, she peered anxiously at the do-gooders who had come to mess up her apartment. But it was that or eviction.

I was the head do-gooder, sent by Rose’s social worker along with four of my students as part of an alternative spring break service experience. The apartment had descended into filth and chaos, we’d been told, since Rose’s “boyfriend” had been transferred into assisted living. The landlord was ready to bounce her, so it was our job to make the place habitable—and not just for the many roaches scurrying through the cabinets.

I was so proud of my students that day. They donned gloves and tackled that awful kitchen with good cheer, emptying cabinets, throwing out contaminated food, and washing every sticky surface. I had the far easier task of organizing the living room: tossing discarded food wrappers, newspapers, and tissues; organizing anything that looked worth keeping; dusting everything I could get my hands on. There weren’t as many roaches to be alarmed by, but there was Rose, watching me with alarm. She didn’t respond to any overtures so I went about my business quietly under her apprehensive gaze.

How is this her life? I found myself wondering. Having been blessed with what I considered a full and meaningful life, overflowing with friends and work, travel and adventures, I was increasingly distressed by the emptiness of this poor woman’s existence.

And then I found it. Hidden among TV Guides and junk mail was a birthday card, the kind you get at a dollar store. I peeked inside. My darling Rose, someone had written, I will always love you. — your Bill

My eyes welled up, and I gently placed the card in a prominent position on her freshly dusted end table. To me she had seemed like a pathetic creature, yet she was someone’s darling Rose. She was a social worker’s challenging case, a landlord’s problem tenant, and our Tuesday project, yet a man named Bill had remembered her birthday and had selected, written, and mailed this card with its tender message.

I do believe that we are all precious in the eyes of God. But I was humbled, that day, to realize that a person I could barely bring myself to look at was precious in the eyes of another human being as well—one who had penned the words we all long to hear.

Who do you find difficult to look at, never mind love? Try to imagine them precious in the eyes of God, and even in the eyes of another human being. What shifts inside you?


May each of your ordinary days be extraordinarily blessed.

– Christine

Next Week:  Finding God in the Cafeteria