Right now we are in the midst of a miserable heat weave up and down the eastern seaboard of the United States. I am reminded of a particular day during another hot and miserable summer about twenty years ago on which I learned something really important about God.
On that hot August day the weather played only a small part in my overall sadness. My life was in transition – I was in the midst of a divorce, had just been laid off (in Catholic education we call it “excessing” – but, trust me, it doesn’t feel any better) and had no clear idea where I was going next. As I came out of the Brooklyn public library located on Grand Army Plaza and walked towards my car I saw the cherry on top of my ice cream sundae of misery. Someone had broken into my car – smashed the windows, threw the suitcase full of clothes all over the ground and, in an effort to get at a radio that cost about 20.00 dollars, did about 500.00 dollars of damage to the car.
What could I do? I sighed and bent down to gather together what remained of my belongings. As I was doing so, I heard a voice behind me say, “Do you know Jesus?”
I looked up to see a nicely dressed young woman carrying a case full of tracts explaining all of the reasons that I should join the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
It must have been a special burst of God’s grace which kept me from saying exactly what I thought of this woman, the Jehovah’s Witnesses in general and Jesus in particular. Fortunately, all I said was, “This isn’t really a good time for me.”
Just then, she gave a sympathetic sigh as my plight seemed to really register with her. She put the tracts away and, without saying a word, bent down into the gutter to retreive for me what was really the only valuable thing located in my 1980-something Chevy Chevette. It was an envelope containing the bank book and traveller’s checks I had just obtained in preparation for the trip I was taking the next day.
For a moment, I just stared at her as she walked away. I’d like to say I had a St.Paul- like moment of conversion, seeing the risen Christ in this stranger, but the truth is I quickly sunk back into my misery.
Yet the memory of that simple act of kindness by a woman belonging to a group I often mocked has never left me. Beyond the denominational walls that so often separate us and the complex theology that too often confuses us and the aggregious human failures to live up to the most noblest of our beliefs lies the grace-filled power of the simple act of human kindness. If we cannot see God there, we’ll never find God in our churches and synagogues and mosques.
How about you? Have you experienced the transcendent power of that simple act of human kindness lately?
Jim Philipps (3rd millennium pilgrim)