Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Article for the Messenger

My role in the Recycling Ministry is the simplest thing in the world. In Kit Cone’s daily Recycling Ministry newsletter, he puts out a call: someone to help with a pickup from a donor in, say, Boonton on Tuesday at 9:30 am. I check my schedule. If I can, I say, "Here I am." The truck shows up at my door. I get on. Kit drives somewhere. We move things. In contrast with my overly cerebral life as a college professor, it’s a welcome change of pace.

In the monthly Messenger column about the Recycling Ministry, you've probably become accustomed to reading stories about deliveries the Recycling Ministry has made. Lives changed. Workers on the truck profoundly moved by the poverty and gratitude they encountered. "Clients" who say the RM workers who intervened in their lives with the critically needed furniture or more must be angels. We often hear about deliveries because they are so often most obviously, as Kit Cone aptly titles them, "Moving Experiences."

The bulk of my RM experiences, and all of my recent ones, have been pickups. They’re important, of course. We can’t deliver what we don’t have. Without beds and couches and chairs and cribs and tables coming in, they can’t go out to those who so desperately need them.

Despite this critical role, it’s undeniable that there’s just far less glamour in pickups. No one says, "Now I can sleep at night because the sofa I had in my storage unit has been passed along to your warehouse" (not unless they take Luke 12:20 particularly seriously). No one says, "I never thought anyone cared enough about my family to take away our old bookshelf." No one breathes a sigh of relief that their children will now be safer at night because the crib their children have grown out of isn't in the attic anymore. Donors are genuinely glad to be able to share, and perhaps even grateful for the freed-up storage space, but, of course, it’s just not the transfiguring mountaintop experience that deliveries are.

Delivering beds to a family that has been sleeping on the floor can be transformative for both the receiving family and the workers who experience how deeply they are touched. Picking up a used mattress is unlikely to be a life-changing experience for either donor or mattress-hauler. Its quotidian nature, though, is part of its beauty.

I love working on pickups, and even more I love the less-glamorous-yet task of unloading the truck into a warehouse, or even moving things from one storage space to another. There’s something almost meditative and prayerful about the sheer mundanity of it. Much like reciting the Psalms during the Daily Office, the lack of excitement or too much thought to the process allows its sheer repetition to sink in and shape the soul. Can loading a truck be prayer?

What better way to train to be a disciple than to repeat the unremarkable motions of service until they become second nature? What better way to contemplate the presence of Christ than to toil for those of whom Jesus said whatsoever you do to the least of these you do to me? My experience of Christ’s presence when I’m kneeling at the altar rail and Christ’s presence when I’m lugging a mattress are profoundly interconnected.

The Anglican poet John Keble, whose feast we would celebrate March 29 if the date were ever available for a Lesser Feast, wrote words that seem apt for reflecting on the gift of mundane service:

If, on our daily course, our mind
Be set to hallow all we find,
New treasures still, of countless price,
God will provide for sacrifice.

The trivial round, the common task,
Will furnish all we ought to ask;
Room to deny ourselves, a road
To bring us daily nearer God.

Only, O Lord, in Thy dear love,
Fit us for perfect rest above,
And help us, this and every day,
To live more nearly as we pray.