In touch we can be present
It is blueberry pancake Sunday. In the kitchen, the young mother works under a deadline and a promise; today before church, blueberry pancakes for her two sons, their favorite breakfast in the whole wide world.
The two boys, aged 5 and 7, are fighting. Rolling on the floor, taking swings at one another over who would get the first pancake.
The mother is stressed and at the end of her rope. So, the fighting proves the final straw. She sees an opportunity for a moral lesson. “Boys,” she shouts. “Sit down! Now, if Jesus were here, he would give the first pancake to his brother.”
Well. That shuts them up.
Then the older brother says to the younger, “I have a great idea. Today, you be Jesus.”
I’m still smiling big. And I wonder. What if today is the day to make a difference in our world?
“I believe in person to person,” Mother Teresa said. “Every person is Christ to me, and since there is only one Jesus, that person is the one person in the world at that moment.”
I just finished a weekend with friends—old and new—at the Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, CA. I told them the blueberry pancake story and we talked about finding balance and making a difference in a world that feels upside down.
And it reminded me of Sister Mary Antona Ebo, and a story I posted on SM a few years ago. Two weeks ago, we honored the anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL. I was privileged to meet Sister Mary in 2013 when I walked the bridge, led by John Lewis.
Here’s her story and the light she still spills today.
A still-plucky Sister Mary Antona Ebo of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary — the first black nun to march — didn’t think she was martyr material, but felt it was time to “put up or shut up.”
On March 7, 1965, Alabama state troopers and local police — some on horseback — used billy clubs, bullwhips and tear gas to bludgeon and bloody about 600 civil rights activists who had started a march of 50 miles from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery.
News of that “Bloody Sunday” attack at the Edmund Pettus Bridge was broadcast into homes across the country and would be a turning point in the civil rights struggle. After the attack, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. issued a call for church leaders around the country to come to Selma. Sister Antona Ebo was working at St. Mary’s Infirmary, then a hospital for African-Americans in St. Louis, when news of the brutality in Selma reached her.
“If I didn’t have this habit on, if I wasn’t working,” she told her co-workers at the infirmary, “I’d be in Selma.”
“God called my bluff,” Ebo would later tell a reporter.
Ebo’s supervisor, Sister Eugene Smith, asked her whether, as an African-American nun, she would be part of a 50-member delegation — made up of laymen, Protestant ministers, rabbis, priests and five white nuns.
On the morning of Wednesday, March 10, the group flew to Selma. They were promptly taken to Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church — a civil rights landmark.
Ebo later realized that inside the chapel, politician and civil rights leader the Rev. Andrew Young had referred to her when he asked “the people to stand and acknowledge that one of the great moral forces of the world was now entering the church.”
“I didn’t even know that that was me,” Ebo says now with a chuckle.
Sister Mary Antona Ebo died November 2017, at the age of 93.
In 2013, I was honored to walk the Edmund Pettis Bridge and to stand with heroes, including Sr. Mary and John Lewis. It’s not my practice to put personal photos in Sabbath Moment. But this is my way of thanking Sr. Mary for stepping up. We are on the bridge alongside Peggy Wallace Kennedy (daughter of George Wallace) and Donzaleigh Avis Abernathy (daughter of Ralph Abernathy).
Which takes my mind to my favorite story to tell an audience.
A little boy was having nightmares. The kind that require a momma’s reassurance. (Dads, at least from my own experience, are typically not wired for nightmare duty.) So, to his momma’s room the boy went, “Momma, momma, I’m having nightmares.”
“It’s okay honey,” she told him, “here’s what I want you to do. Go back to your room, kneel down by your bed, pray to Jesus and he’ll fix it.”
Back to his room, the boy knelt by his bed, prayed to Jesus, hopped back in bed, and… more nightmares. All mommas know this story. Back and forth to momma’s room, throughout the night.
On the sixth visit, “Momma, I know, I know, I’m going to go back to my room. I’m going to kneel down by my bed and pray to Jesus and he’ll fix it. But before I do that, can I just lay in bed with you and have you hold me?”
“Sure honey, why?”
“Because sometimes I need Jesus with skin on it.”
The little boy knew the secret. Life is to be found in the embrace. In the presence of the other. In the touch, we can be present. As our southern kin might say, “That’ll preach.” Yes… that’ll preach regardless of your faith or creed. That’ll preach even if you are not a member of any particular faith group. That’ll preach even if you don’t believe. Because in the touch, we can be present. Now. Even in a world upside down. It is the little things that make a difference.
Confession; there’s a part of me that still cannot believe I can make that difference. But gratefully, I know what it is like to have others be Jesus in skin for me. So, whatever I do, is just spillage from the gifts I have already received.
I’m not trying to recruit you. Or even make you feel like you need to add something else to your life. Just the permission to slow down, long enough to recognize that Jesus in skin lives in you, and in those around us.
So, here’s the deal: we may never walk Selma. We may never give sermons to masses. We will however, come daily face to face with unkindness or cruelty or discouragement or mercilessness. This is not an assignment or a test. Just an invitation to remember that there are hands to hold. There are hearts to encourage. There are people disconnected and afraid. Be a sanctuary. Offer grace. Spill your light.
I’ll be flying back home today. Will check in with the geese, give them some updates, and read to them from my new book. (Oh yes, it’s available for order.) And… I’ll be on the lookout for all the miracles of spring that I missed while I was gone.
Quote for your week…
“When I come in that door, I’m covered with blood sometimes, and they hug me. They love me, they take care of me, they treat me as a real human being. And then they feed me, and they massage me, and they give me adjustments. These are my people. This is my place. This is where I come to be with God.” A New York firefighter, about the volunteers who worked tirelessly in St. Paul’s chapel. St. Paul’s is the place-adjacent to the World Trade Center-where firefighters and rescue workers ate and slept in the days and weeks that followed the 9/11 tragedy at the World Trade Center.
Note: Ebo story, thanks and credit to Lilly Fowler, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
SABBATH MOMENT BULLETIN BOARD
Today’s Photo Credit: Edmund Pettis Bridge 2013. Sister Mary Antona Ebo, Peggy Wallace Kennedy (daughter of George Wallace) and Donzaleigh Avis Abernathy (daughter of Ralph Abernathy).
Keep sending your photos… send to terryhershey.com
Yes, your gift makes a difference… Donation = Love…
Help make Sabbath Moment possible. I write SM because I want to live with a soft heart; to create a place for sanctuary, empathy, inclusion, compassion and kindness… a space where we are refueled to make a difference. SM remains free.
(NEW address by check: PO Box 65336, Port Ludlow, WA 98365)
NEW EVENTS —
May 13 -15 Siena Retreat Center, Racine, WI (Creating Spaces for Self-Care)
NEW Book – Stand Still: finding balance when the world turns upside down
NEW Audio SM… Enjoy — Gifts that make our home
Join us every Wednesday… Audio Sabbath Moment
Letters that do my heart good…
–Thank you for your quote from the Dalai Lama in this week’s SM… very inspiring and amazing how relevant in today’s world. Thank you for all your stories and have fun at “Congress”. Ann
–Hi Terry- Really looking forward to reading and pondering the new book. Appreciate all of your good work and ability to reframe the world in the Sabbath Moment (esp. the latest video about “Return to Normal”). Many thanks, Ann
–My Dear Terry, Once again, I feel tears arising reading your column and the beautiful story of the big fisherman. Isn’t that the spirit of another fisherman 2,000 years ago who is always with us in the midst of the darkness. Can we look deeper and find Him? Thank you Terry, Sonja
–Dear Terry, This is wonderful. I am part of a small group at our retirement community doing a Lenten service each week and I will use what you have written today next week (with attribution of course!) Spilling the light is so important, and so much the thing we can all do. My ongoing thanks, and much love to you, Anne
–As I read today’s Sabbath Moment, I could hear the words of Mr. Rogers, “Look for the helpers”. That’s it; that’s the email to you… and now I’ll just let it roll around in my brain and heart. Wish I could see you at the RECongress. I’ll be there in spirit. Patti
POEMS AND PRAYERS
The problem with beautiful Catholic imagery is that we can easily convince ourselves we see God when we do not see God. No one has seen God, so we have to content ourselves with seeing Him in others. And the most contented people I know are those who have success in this. Fr. Myron McCormick
A Prayer for World Peace
We pray for the power to be gentle;
the strength to be forgiving;
the patience to be understanding;
and the endurance to accept the consequences
of holding on to what we believe to be right.
May we put our trust in the power of good to overcome evil
and the power of love to overcome hatred.
We pray for the vision to see and the faith to believe
in a world emancipated from violence,
a new world where fear shall no longer lead men or women to commit injustice, nor selfishness make them bring suffering to others.
Help us to devote our whole life and thought and energy
to the task of making peace,
praying always for the inspiration and the power
to fulfill the destiny for which we and all men and women were created.
in midst of darkness
grant that I may be
one of a host of sunflowers
and to think on these things
what is beautiful
what is pure
what is just
yet never forget
the sufferings of humankind
while still the Sovereign thread
and the joy of life