Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Sunday Word I

Sunday's first reading from the prophet Isaiah calls us to think of a servant or a slave. We also think of something messy--calloused knees, dirty hands, bowed shoulders. Jesus himself stands as the bloodiest example. He was born in blood when he as God became flesh. We recall the humble service he performed in washing the dirty feet of his apostles. There was blood which came from his body when he was whipped, and there were the bowed shoulders when he carried the cross.

We can think of followers of his whose bodies have been wracked with pain as they seek to free the captive, feed the hungry, give shelter to the homeless. As servants, they follow the example of him who came not to be served, but to serve.

But the servanthood of leadership may not always be physically messy as these images. It can still serve. It can still lead.

I think of the knees of a young woman whom Thomas Merton describes during his first visit to Corpus Christi. Merton entered the church on an August Sunday when he was a graduate student at Columbia in 1938. He had just begun thinking of faith and God. In The Seven Storey Mountain, he writes:

I found a place that I hoped would be obscure, over on one side, in the back, and went to it without genuflecting, and knelt down. As I knelt, the first thing I noticed was a young girl, very pretty too, perhaps fifteen or sixteen, kneeling straight up and praying quite seriously. I was very much impressed to see that someone who was young and beautiful could with such simplicity make prayer the real and serious and principal reason for going to church. She was clearly kneeling that way because she meant it, not in order to show off, and she was praying with an absorption which, though not the deep recollection of a saint, was serious enough to show that she was not thinking at all about the other people who were there. What a revelation it was, to discover so many ordinary people in a place together, more conscious of God than of one another . . .