A visitor to today’s Red Door lunch ministry pulled me aside and related to me an incident that happened a few moments earlier. Rather than concern, he was relating to me with wonder and appreciation how the situation he observed quickly resolved. One of the student volunteers had been assigned to the table to hand out fruit: oranges, apples, bananas. As he handed someone an orange, the meal guest threw it back at him. The student just smiled and said, “would you rather have an apple?” and when the person walked back angrily, he just shrugged it off and helped the next person. When the visitor said to him, “Why didn’t you react?” the student volunteer said, “I know he probably didn’t want to take it from me, because I’m Muslim. He had said that before. But, I’m used to it.”
I sighed. This was very distressing for me to hear. I value the fact that this faith-based food ministry in the parish hall of an Episcopal Church attracts student and community volunteers from all walks of life, all faith backgrounds, and we serve and work together in deep peace. In fact, it gives me hope for the future to have such a beautiful, caring spirit breathing life to us all in the midst of diversity.
The students behind the table seemed fine. I was tempted to brush it off. But, proximity is my intention this Lenten season, so I drew near. I asked the students at the fruit table how things were going, making small talk. The incident didn’t come up. So, I said: “One of the visitors suggested that you might have had been on the receiving end of an orange in flight?” The student volunteer, a young and gregarious student, just laughed and said, “yeah, I can duck quick…no harm done.” I said, “well, it hurt me to hear that you may have been targeted by anyone. We love that you are here and I apologize if you felt anything differently.” The young student and his friend smiled. “Like I said, I am used to it. People aren’t always kind. But I know that it is people’s fear that usually is in the way of kindness. And this man, he is confused and I can see that, so there was no harm. Everyone has been grateful and we are grateful to be here; we each have our own path and we are walking it.”
I smiled and grabbed an apple, offering the students one, too. I noted that there wasn’t a lot else we were serving I could eat that day. The other student at the table said, “are you fasting? It is Christian fasting season, Lent, right?”
“Yes, actually it is, and I am,” I said, “I’m still getting used to this one. I’m keeping a Lenten fast from the Orthodox tradition this year, so there is a lot that I usually eat that I’m not eating right now. It’s fine, though…I’m learning a lot about that branch of our Christian tradition and praying a lot, and thinking of one of my friends who is keeping the same fast, too.” The two students and I began a conversation about fasting: the Ramadan fast, the Lenten fast, the various histories and contemporary versions of how and why we fast. I shared my own challenge, how I had kept a fast in solidarity for one day last Ramadan when I had been invited to Iftar and how much after that I realized I appreciated water, more than anything. I listened to the stories of their family traditions, their prayer traditions, and they asked me about customs of Lent they had heard about and how it all fit together in my own life. We all learned things about what we assumed, what we experienced, and what was important to us. After a few minutes of this engaged dialogue, the student said, “You know, it really is all about intention, isn’t it? Prayer and intention.”
Yes, it is. I stopped at that moment and said a silent prayer of gratitude.
We are more alike than different, people of faith who live prayerfully into a life in awareness of others. Intentional living, choosing, relating, forgiving, seeking out where the threads of our live intersect. We grow closer because of our diversity, our deep listening, and our prayerful intentions.
My prayer for us all is that we live into an intention of reaching across boundaries, loving and listening to our neighbors. Drawing near reveals not only more about our neighbors, but about ourselves.
Holy One, your intention for us all is mercy, love, and grace. Help us to see you in all who we encounter.