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So exclaimed Mary R Woodard (no period after the letter R), her body broken by decades of washing, ironing, and cleaning for others in St. Louis, Missouri. As a child she hunkered down in a ditch in Christian County, Kentucky, and watched her twenty-year-old uncle lynched for looking at a white woman. Following her move North as part of the Great Migration, her experience of racism morphed into “bitter with sweet meanness.” Psalm 37 protected her gentle spirit from its contagion.

 Into Mary’s life came another outsider, Jane Ellen Ibur, a toddler living in an affluent home with a swimming pool. Screaming battles with her parents led her to seek Mary’s bosom, in their basement where she ironed.

This little girl subsequently became a teacher and a poet who honored her mentor in this poetic memoir, both wings flappin’, still not flyin’ (2014). Their mutual selflessness defies words: Mary’s habitual recourse to God and Jane’s care of her the last eleven years of her life—such reveals the brilliance of the Sacred Feminine.

We learn from them.

 

It is overcast, drizzly, cold. Cars inch forward along the exit ramp onto South Kingshighway near the Barnes-Jewish Hospital complex. Further ahead stands the outline of a panhandler. I cringe. With each change of the stoplight, I move closer. A stooped woman braces herself against cutting winds as she walks toward us; her sign says it all: Homeless – Hungry – Merry Christmas!

I open my window and wave. She stoops, eye-level with me, then flashes a toothless grin and takes the health bar offered her. “God bless you!” she says, her milky eyes alive with mirth. In the rear view mirror, I follow her mincing steps toward other motorists, noting as well her stained high-top tennis shoes with broken laces. The stoplight changes and I drive on.

But she remains with me. I’ve glimpsed the disheveled hag who lives within me, even reluctantly befriended her. At times, my inner homelessness, my disorientation, my ill-formed choices with consequences, my rebellion sickens me. Although not on the streets, vulnerable and isolated, my angst yearns for deliverance.

Into just such circumstances, The Word of God incarnated among us to teach us to love the unlovely in ourselves and in others through the practice of humility, honesty, and forgiveness. He even showed us how to do it—Kingdom living, He called it. Such a transforming gift that never tarnishes!

Merry Christmas!

 

 

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