20 | the open hand of god #Lent2022

Paul writes, “Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, ponder these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

A person needn’t be fearful of sixty-five-year-old Mennonite women in white lace caps. They won’t come at you waving Bibles. I’m in regular weekly contact with several of them, and they seem to me to be pretty much like most rural women their age.

My sample is drawn from behind the counter at the Etcetera Thrift and Gift Shop in Seward, Nebraska, operated by the Mennonite church, and I offer the following observations, made over a period of several years: (1) Mennonite women in their sixties are wary of strangers but grow friendly if approached with friendliness and will gladly search out a sack for your purchases. (2) They handle each article with reverence, as it if had personality and character; they have a winning way of looking upon a homely paint-by-number picture or a tweed sports coat that’s a little bit stinky under the arms. You can tell that though they may be glad to see it go, they wish it a happy future. (3) They know the quality of every item in the Lord God’s realm and will tell you when the cloudy mirror you’ve brought to their counter is “a real good bargain too.” (4) They customarily work in teams of two, one reading aloud from the price tag and the other scrutinizing the keys on the cash register, then punching each key with stiff-fingered determination, as if an error might send an innocent man to his death. (5) They are extremely careful about counting out change and will do it over and over and over. My mother could have been a Mennonite.

I like these women immensely. They live with goodness and in goodness, and they make it a practical matter. I would like to have them for my kindly, loving aunts, but for the fact that I am about the same age.

Menno Simons, who founded their church in 1517 after leaving the priesthood, recommended a simple life, a simple way of worshipping. My eleventh edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica describes his writings as follows: “through them shines a character attractive by the sincerity of its simple and warm spirituality.” You can see that character in these women. There’s a whole lot worth liking under those little white caps. In smiling pairs they stand behind their scratched wooden counter, their hands in the open. And these women at their homely station, with their old cash register full of nickels and dimes, holding your crumpled sack full of secondhand shirts, all these are offered in one package, like a very good bargain from the open hand of God. Ω

Reflect: In whom do you see simplicity and goodness? What are their virtues? What are their quirks? What delights you about them?

What is this? Lent is the 40 days, excluding Sundays, before Easter. Traditionally it is a time of reflection and pilgrimage. To help you on this journey, Sanctuary has put together 40 stories from people both within and beyond the congregation, with associated questions for reflection and prayer. A reading will be uploaded every day of Lent. This year’s theme is Fruit of the Spirit. Why? Read this. #Lent2022. Real People, Real Stories: 40 Readings for Lent © Sanctuary, 2022. From Ted Kooser. Small Wonders. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2004: 43-44.

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