Agape: March 30, 2020

Agape: The 2020 Lenten Devotional for St. Paul's Episcopal Church

“No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” -1 John 4:12

I make it a habit to engage, complement, and encourage strangers in public places. I don’t go out of my way to do so, but don’t let an opportunity pass by. In line at the post office. Waiting for a light to change at a street corner. In passing on a dock or in the aisles of the grocery store. At the very least, I make eye contact and smile or nod. I don’t do this for any ulterior motive or for self-aggrandizement. It comes from somewhere deep within, a soul-to-soul connection, even if we never see that person again. And often the blessing bounces back to me.

Two examples stand out in my memory of being particularly touching. And neither of them involved words.

The first was on an airplane trip to New York from Seattle on a hot, muggy August day in the late 1980s seven months pregnant with my third child with my four-year-old son in the seat adjacent to me, and my two-year-old daughter on my lap. Seated in the bulkhead row for more room, we shared the space with a Muslim woman in full traditional dress, only her eyes showing. She, too, was pregnant with two small children. Although we didn’t speak the same language or adhere to the same religion, we shared a mother moment (for five and half hours!) Although I couldn’t see her mouth, her eyes smiled. I smiled back, mother to mother.

The second instance occurred this past fall while visiting the Sistine Chapel at The Vatican. In the utter silence and pressed on all sides with a sea of humanity, a toddler in a stroller next to me dropped her bottle on the marble floor. I bent to pick it up, tapped her mother on the shoulder, and handed the bottle back. The mother smiled and nodded her thanks. Not five minutes later, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the same woman. In her hands was a sweater that had dropped from my arm. Now it was my turn to thank her with a smile and a nod.

Whether we rely on words or not, it’s touching one another’s humanity that speaks volumes.

Dear Lord, help us to see the humanity in everyone we meet, regardless of gender or religion or political persuasion. Amen.
-Ashley Sweeney