Got a present today. I run the prayer space every second Sunday night in Credo - 15 minutes of sacred quiet before the rush of dinner, where we light a few candles and say a few prayers. You have to be pretty on the ball - if everybody comes in and grabs a hot drink, for example, it can take a long time to settle the mood again. So I have volunteers strategically placed to gently guide people towards the lit candle on the stage area, where we always do our prayers.
Anyways, I'd opened the doors and all these people flooded in, and I was about to gather everybody around the candle, when this person said to me, "Excuse me miss." It was one of those people who you can't figure whether it's a man or a woman - possibly it was neither or both. Since 'it' is a horrible term to use for a person, I will use the gender-neutral pronoun 'ze', mainly because I've always wanted to use it in a piece of writing and now's the perfect opportunity.
Ze clutched at a small plastic bag. "I brought you a present."
"For me?" I'd only met this person once before.
"Well this other little lady somewhere else has helped me so much with clothes and food and this and that but I couldn't find her today so I thought I know you and I thought I could give it to you instead." The voice was deep and the chin wagged at a furious rate, seemingly even faster than the words being spoken.
My eyes darted sideways at all the people spreading out throughout Credo. How would I ever get them back again? "Thanks!" I said.
One by one, ze pulled out a collection of gifts. A bent card and an accompanying envelope ("Here's a card I'm sorry I didn't have a pen."), a chocolate bar, a packet of soap, a muffin, a banana and an orange in a paper bag ("I like fruit and fruit's very good for you, isn't it, it is isn't it?"). I raked my fingers on one hand through my hair, waiting as each gift slowly revealed itself.
Ze kept talking about something I couldn't quite understand. Finally I said, "Thankyou so much for your gifts - but I have to get things started."
"Ok, ok, that's ok, that's fine." And it was, and I gathered everybody together for prayers.
I realised later that it was a bit like the story we'd read in church that night, about the woman who poured ridiculously expensive perfume on Jesus' feet and mopped it up with her let-down hair. It was worth a year's wages, that little bottle, and people critised her for the waste ("You should have sold it and given the money to the poor!"). But Jesus felt honoured by the gift.
Made me think that sometimes you just have to honour a gift, especially if it is from a person who is marginalised. Some people say that the woman who poured the perfume in the gospels stories was probably a prostitute (although not in John - it is Mary there, of Mary and Martha fame), because she was so bold and had the perfume in the first place. What if Jesus were to have said, "Woman! What a waste! You should have sold that perfume and given it to the poor!" The woman would have felt so rejected. Poverty is about more than just money; it's also about acceptance. In accepting such an intimate gift from a prostitute who the religious people would not so much as look at, Jesus was being truly loving.
I felt like if I'd said to the person in Credo, "Can you wait til after and give it to me?" it might have been a rejection. Even though I had more people to worry about than just that one non-gender-specific person. Sometimes to be loving you have to honour the individual over everybody else.