She plopped her luggage down on my foot while asking, “is this seat free?” She had managed to get the gate agent to open the door, and she took the first available seat—next to me. I had been upgraded to business class, and clearly she did not belong. She was wearing sweat pants and a smelly jacket, and I sniffed my superiority. Besides, she had unloaded her heavy bag on my sore right foot. I dreaded the two hour flight from Atlanta to San Antonio.
Thankfully I got over myself and inquired why she had been forced to dash to make the connection. The flights left late, she said, which I understood as I had been delayed by the storms strafing the Southeast. Then, she murmured quietly, “I am returning from burying my mother.”
My irritation evaporated as I began to inquire about the circumstances of her mother’s death and how she was doing. A sacred space opened up as I listened to her narrative of her relationship with her mother and the depth of the loss she was experiencing. My arched eyebrows relaxed as we built a bridge of common humanity, understanding together what it means to bury your mother.
On my way to speak about empowering women and being attentive, I almost missed a meaningful encounter with this hurting sister. I recognized the grace of the Spirit’s nudge to create space for her to share her grief, and the moments were holy as we discussed faith and hope.
As we move forward in the Season after Epiphany, I am drawn to the ways Jesus recognizes the wounds and longings of his fellow humans. He has identified with them in baptism, and as he begins his public ministry he welcomes the searching, questioning early followers.
The fourth Gospel recounts his encounter with two of John the Baptizer’s disciples. John has pointed him out by saying: “There is the Lamb of God.” They abruptly left their first teacher to follow Jesus.
A most remarkable conversation ensues. Jesus does not presume their intent, but rather asks: “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38) This may well be the key question for us all. My fellow traveler was simply looking for an empathetic ear, which is what we all desire when we are hurting.
This past week in a lectureship at Georgetown College, Miroslav Volf posed the question: “What is a well lived life?” It is life given to a significant vocation and lived in meaningful relationships, in my judgment. It is a life of compassion, as we become stewards of our own wounds. It is learning to follow Jesus so that we might really understand what we are looking for.
Molly T. Marshall
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