It was a gathering of women that were all from one particular religious denomination. Like many such meetings that last about six or seven hours, the event began with a brief hospitality period lasting about thirty minutes. As the attendees gathered, they registered, received name badges, and then were invited to partake of coffee, doughnuts, fruit juice, and/or bagels.
Several speakers presented brief programs with brief ten minutes periods between each for the women to get to know each other at their table. One speaker included a team building exercise but generally things progressed at an informative but rather leisurely place until the lunch hour. Instead of having the luncheon served at the community hall where the district meeting was being held, the attendees were told their noon meal would be served down the block and across the street at a local shelter.
The shelter not only housed homeless young women, it offered classes and one of the classes was cooking. A local chef volunteered time to teach those who were interested basic tools for becoming a prep chef, the first step towards a better life for the young women. The group attendees would be given a tour of the facility and then treated to the meal, served in the private dining hall.
It seemed an odd incongruence to many. The young women wore torn t-shirts under their aprons which allowed everyone to see their tattoos, body piercings, and scars. Their hair styles included green hair, shaved heads, and braids which wrapped around the head several times. The dining hall, however, was shining, mahogany tables that glistened with lemon oil polishing, sparkling white table cloths and linen napkins. The five chefs-in-training were presented to the group as graduates of the program who would be leaving, having procured jobs in the surrounding states at five-star restaurants. The meal was served by the class which had just started.
The tables were arranged in banquet style with the women from the church group finding place cards with their names. Every third seat, however, was vacant. The women from the shelter would sit there, being interspersed among the attendees so as to answer questions and introduce themselves. The group from Table 7 was not quite as enthusiastic about the arrangement as most of the other women. An older woman named Miriam had sat with them and she had not been very supportive of the things discussed.
Miriam declined the tour and asked to be seated in the dining hall. She explained that she had a bad hip and felt climbing the stairs of the older home would be painful. One of the girls just beginning her training escorted her into the dining room while everyone else began the tour. One of the other ladies from Table 7 offered to stay with Miriam but she declined, urging them to “go see”.
The tour ended and everyone walked into the dining room, and then stopped in amazement. Miriam was helping serve the food, a brightly-colored ribbon clipped in her hair and an apron around her dress. “C’mon on in,” Miriam invited. “Don’t just stand there in the way; we’re got lots of food to bring in!” As the women found their names and began to sit down, one of them from Table 7 noticed a cupcake at Miriam’s place, a cupcake with a candle.
The leader of the girls stepped forward. “I realize you probably are going to say a prayer before your meal but today, could we do something different? Instead of quietly giving thanks in hushed whispers, would you mind if we sang our thanksgiving? We’d like to do that.” The women nodded affirmatively and then one of the younger girls in training stepped forward.
“As I walked Miss M to her seat, I asked her what her sign was. She had a charm bracelet that made me think she was a Virgo. We have a volleyball team here and we called ourselves the Vestal Virgins; you know, the group of women from some old Roman stories that lived together and were safe. Turns out Miss M really is a Virgo!” The woman motioned for Miriam to stand up. “Today is her birthday so we’d like to give thanks for her life!”
No one at the meeting would have expected the odd pairing of a young former prostitute and an elderly by-the-rules matron. But then, no one at the meeting had seen Miriam as anything other than what their eyes told them.
The Hebrew name for their deity included El Roi, the God who sees me. For many, this name is a bit scary. No one really wants a deity who knows their every thought or sees their every action. For many, this is an intrusive god. We all wear costumes and masks as we go about our daily life, often afraid to let others really see us. Those who are willing to let others in are considered weird, not in keeping with the rules of society.
Everyone had expected Miriam to be stand-offish to the young women whose lives had taken a very different path. Instead, Miriam had seen the scars on the girls’ arm and patted her hand, telling her how brave she had been to turn her life around. Miriam’s reticent at the meeting had been remembering there was no one to remember it was her birthday. The young girl had not been so impressed with Miriam’s expensive clothes that she had failed to really see what Miriam was wearing. What will you see today? Will you see the heart beating inside another or will you simple see the outer covering? Today it is your turn to share your faith. Let others see what is in your heart. Today is your turn to let another know how grateful you are for their life.