Wednesday, February 14, 2007

To be a public witness

There's a demure youngish middle-aged woman of afro-Caribbean origin, I'd say from her accent, who stands a few hours at a time, several days a week in the Boulevard de Nantes subway close to the City Hall. She simply stands there saying clearly, simply without ranting "God is alive. Jesus saves." Nothing more, hour after hour.

It's her personal act of witness to her faith, week in week out, all weathers. No banners, no tracts, no conversation. When she first started, she spoke quite shyly and quietly, with obvious sincerity and humility. As her confidence has increased, her voice has become stronger, but it remains unforced. This is not 'argument weak, shout louder' territory. Her action may be deemed eccentric, yet it's touchingly beautiful.

I always smile at her, but I never manage to catch her eye. It could be a cultural thing. Some African and Caribbean women don't look a man in the eye. It's not because they are necessarily shy or consider themselves inferior, it's more like a gesture of respect for someone to glance at them and then look away, especially a priest. It was something I found quite disconcerting when I first encountered it in the black community where I served as a young pastor. Fortunately, a colleague explained this to me, which was a reassurance.

It'd be inappropriate for me to interrupt her, or to comment aloud, though doubtless some passers by may well do. She must, by now, know many of the regulars who go back and fore. She's not doing it to be appreciated, nor to confront. She's declaring what gives her life meaning and purpose in the most simple and direct way, in season and out of season, whether it meaks sense or not.

Quietly, shyly, she's encouraging me to be myself too.

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