As a mother of three boys, I know the power of celebration. It is one of a mother’s many responsibilities, to celebrate. I rejoice in the accomplishments and milestones of my guys. I watch them grow and learn, always looking for moments to celebrate, to venerate. And when the awards don’t come and the race is not won, I still encourage my kids, I still value them, I still celebrate and venerate them.
It is easy to celebrate a child, especially our own. We see such joy, such potential. We may even see our own strengths and influences in those celebratory moments. And in their innocence and humility, children see little shame in seeking praise. So, we readily celebrate small things. We honor the mundane. We venerate them simply because of who they are.
At Reconciliation Services we talk often of the mission to see each person we come in contact with as a unique person created by God and therefore worthy of veneration, celebration, honor. That word honor is synonymous with both venerate and celebrate.
That connection between celebration as veneration was so tangible to me recently.
It was a very active Friday night meal at RS. It was a cheerful energy, the kind that good food and intense conversation can conjure. Sometimes in that crowd there is a quiet celebration waiting to happen. Sometimes I am blessed enough to get to be in on it.
David walked in and greeted me as he often does.
“Do you remember me?” he asked. “Of course I do, David. I haven’t see you in awhile.” He told me he had a birthday recently. “I turned 52,” he said. I congratulated him of course and told him that I, too, recently had a birthday. He pointed out that I share a birthday with his uncle and then he named several people he knew with birthdays near my own. He recalled each person’s age and birthdate. “You’re really good at remembering dates,” I told him. “Yeah, people say I am pretty good with numbers,” he said.
Then he reached inside his big winter coat and pulled out an envelope. He opened the envelope, which had his name neatly written on the front. “Would you like to sign my birthday card?” he asked. “Of course I would. Thanks for asking.”
David is a tall, quiet man. There is no arrogance in him. He is guileless and simple and gentle. He often wears multiple coats and carries a black leather satchel. You won’t likely see him without his hat on or a hood pulled up over his head. He is poor. He is homeless.
At first, I felt quite sad for him. Had he been carrying that card around for days just hoping someone would know, would ask to sign it? Only, David wasn’t sad. He was smiling, like he always does, and he was excited to see me sign his card. It wasn’t a sorry attempt at pity or attention. David didn’t announce his birthday to the room full of people gathered for the Friday night free meal at Reconciliation Services. Surely we would have sung to him, congratulated him, patted him on the back. He didn’t make his way around the room adding signature after signature to his precious birthday card. He asked me, just me.
David offered me a personal invitation to know him, to celebrate him. He made himself so vulnerable to me and in turn challenged me to be vulnerable too. I don’t like to feel vulnerable. I like my boundaries. I can serve the Friday night meal with a smile and willingly pour cup after cup of lemonade and wipe table after table. I keep moving. I keep doing.
David’s invitation was immediate and profound. It couldn’t be hurried or brushed aside. He cut right through my walls and said, “See me.” Was he an angel sent by God to test me, to prove me? Was it the voice of God Himself, saying, “I invite YOU”? Perhaps.
I’ve never carried around my own birthday card, seeking signatures. But I do long to be known, to be celebrated. David’s openness really challenged me. It brought me back to that place at my very core that longs to be close to God, to welcome his participation, his presence. Being vulnerable with one another makes this closeness possible--closeness with one another and closeness with God. We return to that celebrated state, that place of veneration, where we honor and are very much honored as well.
Can celebration be as simple as signing a homeless man’s birthday card? Yes, it is a good place to begin.
I remember you David. I see you. Thank you for inviting me to celebrate you, to venerate you. And thank you for venerating and celebrating me also.
Article by Jodi Mathews