With. A word that turns something into a connection:
She’s with me. They’re with the family. He’s with the band.
In Mark 14, Jesus is at a table, and a woman comes up behind him, breaks a jar of perfume, and covers him with a scent. Imagine breathing in that rich smell; this perfume was not an everyday-use variety. It’s price went deeper than an annual income.
It would have been heavy in that room, saturating the senses of everyone at the table. The gift was overwhelming.
And the attention was riveted on this woman. “Why the waste?” I can imagine them slowly shaking their heads, frowns growing deeper. “Many poor people could have been helped with the money she squandered.”
At the retreat I attended two weeks ago, we were asked to put ourselves into this story. I could hear the irreparable cracking open of the alabaster jar. When it was broken, there was no rationing that could be done; no socially harmless, secreted gift. Just lavishness.
The ones accusing her of doing more harm than good spoke with voices familiar to me (I ask similar questions, particularly of my own life). And the consolation baffled me as it may have confused them. “You can help the poor anytime. They’re always with you. She did what she could.”
I sat in a coffee shop a few days ago, phone in hand, checking a facebook account for news on an event happening in my NY home congregation. They were seeking His presence, listening to good teachers, and celebrating it through posting videos and quotes. I had come to the coffeeshop for my own time with God, but my heart was focusing on not being with them. Homesickness ebbs and flows oddly enough.
A song reminded me of the one thing that motivated me to arrive there: His presence. The same thing that motivated my friends to gather at a downtown brick structure in NY, had me sitting in a coffee shop in the Middle East, with strangers’ not-so-subtle glances and a mediocre drink and a reason to sit and to wait. Impractical in the eyes of outsiders, invaluable to the one whose presence I am seeking.
And somehow alongside the bitter dish of being without, I am tasting the sweet wine of with. Not a pairing I would have chosen. God with us– in the longing, and the fulfillment. In the community, and the quiet.
It’s that with that I bring with me, to the homes of local friends, to the community center with my Arab mommas, to the university classroom, to the basement space that is my home here.