This week, I entered the chapel to turn on the lights for an afternoon eucharist to find a woman, alone, in the front pew, in the dark, weeping. Her seat was covered in kleenex and they indicated that she had been there quite a while and weeping for quite a while too. She had soft skin and bright eyes strong and weakened all at once. The kind of woman who, in different life circumstances would be a good state senator.
Turning on half the lights I joined her. She told me her story and I listened. She had been ganged up on while on a bus – bullied by very bad people when trying to stand up for goodness. She was jobless, phone less and nearly homeless. A series of mishaps had taker her quickly to this place in life and this attack on the bus was the last straw. We both had a good cry and I did not try to convince her that God is a magician or a good-luck charm. We both agreed that God does not bless the rich and curse the poor. The rich are rich because they won a genetic lottery and capitalize on it. The poor are poor because of a combination of life choices and often a dismal genetic lottery loss.
But we both agreed that Jesus loves the financially poor and that Jesus loves those who suffer when they are standing up for the right and the good against the evil, mean and corrupt.
I asked if she would like to stay for the Eucharist (another had arrived) and she agreed.
I was stunned when the first reading was about Paul and Silas in Acts. They stood up for a crazy woman who was not crazy, but was possessed of some kind of demon which could help her to read fortunes. She was a slave and was making money for her master by telling fortunes. When Paul and Silas healed her – released her form her spiritual prison, she could no longer read fortunes and her master was furious. He and the villagers attacked Paul and Silas, beat them and threw them into prison, but an earthquake opened the doors to the prison and, rather than escape, they saved the life of the prison guard i his own form of despair.
I wish God showed up whenever I ring my little bell. I wish God would appear when I rub the Aladdin’s Lamp. I wish my wealth relative to the poverty of the world’s population meant that God loves white people or rich people or educated people. I wish God were Tinker-bell or Santa Clause or Dumbledore or the lady in white who picks my name in the lottery on tv. But instead God is just present – sometimes fixing, sometimes helping, sometimes caressing or kissing my neck from behind to indicate immediate presence, sometimes whispering that all will be well when it really seems it will not be. God, in my experience, always shows up – but is NEVER early.
From her face, in that front pew, I could see her smile as I read the story from Acts. An intelligent woman, she understood the miracle of this little communion. I could see it dawn on her that what seems to be a huge, big, fat, stinking-steaming-poo-pile-of-a-mess, often is, and yet God is working. God did not stop the abuse of Paul and Silas. God showed up seemingly late. But God showed up; and the result was that two thousand years later, in a small chapel, three people heard the story of God showing up and wondered if our confidence in God’s showing up is perfectly placed, even if our timing expectations need some flexibility. Might that flexibility not be what we mean when we speak of faith and hope?