Yesterday at church the text of the sermon was the ancient story of Naomi and Ruth, a story of a widowed mother-in-law and widowed daughter-in-law who commit to be each others’ family in a time of famine and aloneness; a story that later weaves, by genealogy, into the story of David, and later still into the story of Jesus.
One of my favorite novels, Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton, set in South Africa, has a scene that evokes the same sense of mercy and embrace of the marginalized. Kumalo, the book’s main character, a minister, has just returned to his town after being on a journey to look for his adult son. The son, he discovered, had been arrested for murder, and after being found guilty was sentenced to death. Kumalo returns home with his son’s new pregnant wife. Until days before, this new wife had only the status of a pregnant “girlfriend,” but Kumalo arranged for her, a girl he had only just met, and his death-row son to marry so that she could be his daughter-in-law and not be abandoned. He also returns home with his young nephew. While on the journey to find his son, he also found his sister, who had become a prostitute, and her son and arranged for them both to return home with him, but his sister disappeared before the journey home began.
The scene starts when Kumalo, after saying goodbye to his son, arrives home and introduces his wife to nephew and their son's new pregnant wife:
"–And this is the small boy, and this is our new daughter.
Kumalo's wife lifts the small boy and kisses him after the European fashion. You are my child, she says. She puts him down and goes to the girl who stands there humbly with her paper bag. She takes her in her arms after the European fashion, and says to her, you are my daughter. And the girl bursts suddenly into weeping, so that the woman must say to her, Hush, hush, do not cry. She says to her further, our home is simple and quiet, there are no great things here. The girl looks up through her tears and says, mother, that is all that I desire.
Something deep is touched here, something that is good and deep. Although it comes with tears, it is like a comfort in such desolation."
And a few pages further:
"There is a lamp outside the church, the lamp they light for the services. There are women of the church sitting on the red earth under the lamp; they are dressed in white dresses, each with a green cloth about her neck. They rise when the party approaches, and one breaks into a hymn, with a high note that cannot be sustained; but others come in underneath it, and support and sustain it, and some men come in too, with the deep notes and the true. Kumalo takes off his hat and he and his wife and his friend join in also, while the girl stands and watches in wonder. It is a hymn of thanksgiving, and man remembers God in it, and prostrates himself and gives thanks for the Everlasting Mercy. And it echoes in the bare red hills and over the bare red fields of the broken tribe. And it is sung in love and humility and gratitude, and the humble simple people pour their lives into the song."
[Photo: taken of a place far from here, in Santa Fe; a good place to sit alone and think and pray.]