Our Bible study group just finished reading The Shattered Lantern by Ronald Rolheiser. It was an interesting experience. It’s not the most accessible of books, and we weren’t always in agreement with the author, or even sure of what he was saying, but we had some wonderful discussions and, I believe, some real spiritual growth.
The last chapter focused on contemporary spiritual exercises, particularly contemplative prayer, but it was another practice, “kissing the leper,” that caught my attention. Rolheiser told a story of St. Francis, before his conversion, when he went into town to party, and found his way blocked by a leper in the road. Francis couldn’t get around the man, and he was determined to get to town for some fun, so he got down from his horse to physically move the leper, even though the sight and the smell of the man disgusted him. But a strange thing happened; when he touched the leper he found himself overwhelmed with the sense of God’s love. He kissed the leper, and everything changed.
And it was an experience I had this week. I kissed the leper.
I picked up a prescription at my drugstore and was headed back to my car. I use a chain pharmacy store that is close to where we used to live. It is in a somewhat marginal neighborhood, but I love the fact that the clerks know me by name. If my husband picks up my medication, they write notes to me on the Rx slips. I love that kind of personal attention, which husband doesn’t receive at the chain's other store in town. So I continue to patronize that one.
As I headed toward my car, I saw a middle-aged man dressed somewhat shabbily and smiled and said “Hello" to him. He said “Hello” somewhat tentatively, then turned around to look at me with a skeptical look on his face. I asked how he was doing, and he smiled and said, “Good, how are you?” Then he asked, “You really want to know, don’t you?” He walked toward me.
I replied “Yes,” and he smiled and said, “Thank you. Most people really don’t care.” And then he hugged me. I hugged him back - he made my day. He could have been homeless; I don’t know or care. What I knew was he was someone who needed a smile and a “How are you.” We all do. A woman in a wheelchair further down the pavement, who had followed this interchange, looked at me, smiled, and said, “Hello.” It was a chain reaction of good will, of God’s will.
How many times are we considered the leper, with our visible (and invisible) disabilities? How many times are we regarded with fear or mistrust or misunderstanding? What if we turn the tables and we reach out first with the kiss? What would the world look like then?
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Colossians 3:12
I will be having surgery on my left eye this coming week. I’m not sure if and when there will be a devotional next week. A dear friend from my former home town had the same surgery last month and is keeping me apprised of her progress. It will be some months before my vision improves, but I should be able to read and write by the following week. I welcome your prayers for my surgeon and for my recovery, as well as for my ever-patient husband, my friends.
Dear God, Thank you for the brothers and sisters you place in our path each day. Remind us that we all are family, and help us to reach out to those who need our smiles, our hellos, and our hugs. Thank you for doctors who heal us, and loved ones who care for us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.