Tuesday 2 September 2008

A Nice Meditation for America's Labor Day...

SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL - By Dr. Michael A. Halleen

"Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?" (Psalm 42:11)

I've heard some grumbling about today — Labor Day in the U.S. It's the traditional start of the fall (and school!) season and, worse, it marks the end of summer in the minds of many in my part of the country. It's been a beautiful summer, and some of the grumbling, I confess, has been my own.

When I start to hear myself complain, I choose to recall my visit to a house church in Vladimir, Russia. On a stormy Sunday morning in May, just a few years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, twenty or so American travelers and I made our way down a steep hillside through a gloomy, old residential area. From the outside, the house appeared empty — no cars on the street, no light in the windows. Were we in the right place?

Indeed we were. Inside, a crowd three times our size had gathered and was waiting — shoulder to shoulder — for the still novel experience of sharing worship with Westerners. Folding chairs were being shared by two persons, and many people were seated, knees up, on the floor to make room for their honored guests. There was energy in that place, despite wrinkled faces and mournful songs.

The three-hour service concluded with a ceremonial foot-washing. Men went to one room, women to another. I was invited to be the first to have my feet washed. A pail of water and a towel were produced, and a man named Pavel eagerly knelt at my feet to do the honors. After carefully drying my feet, Pavel motioned for me to stand, whereupon he grabbed my shoulders and — in the Russian way — kissed me on the mouth. I was then to wash the feet of a Russian named Sasha. When I finished, I thought I could get by — in the American way — with a handshake. No chance. In that house, things were done by their rules.

As our hosts shared tea and bread with us in the early hours of the afternoon, Pavel took me aside. Gesturing toward the dreary street, he said, "Our souls are always sad if we think only of what we see in this world. But why be sad? With God nothing is impossible! He gives us something beautiful to think about every day! Thank you for visiting us!" And he (thankfully) shook my hand.

As the summer passes, Pavel — the Russian psalmist's — words ring in memory. How can I be downcast about the passing of a season? Love is strong, God is good, and there is something beautiful to think about — and something good to do — today.

Just a taste of what can be experienced when literal foot-washing is still included in communion time - just like it still is in the Church of the Brethren - and among many in the Mennonite tradition...

Blessings to all,
Clair Hochstetler
Canberra, Australia

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