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Can I Get a With-Ness?

Can I Get a With-Ness?

Tel Aviv is a tangle of concrete, buildings, cars, exhaust, and armed guards. At first, we were swept up in the metropolis, gasping for air. We definitely felt like outsiders, unwieldy and unwelcome, trying to find a place to fit in.

After a few hits and misses, we finally found a respite to turn to and ended up spending countless lunchtimes at a corner café called Streets. It was a hip little joint on the corner of a busy street, with black metal chairs, black-and-white photos on the walls, and a cement trough sink in between the men’s and women’s bathrooms — so progressive. The kids working there were all so beautiful in their own way. The girl with half her head shaved and huge glasses. The boy with the curly black afro and striped tee shirts. The high-waisted pants, the looping hem of the fluorescent tank tops, the worn high-top sneakers. They wore piercings and jewelry anywhere they pleased with hair cut angular and asymmetrical. The hip uniform of the young and the free, of the kids who had shrugged off the religion of their parents. They looked like they were from my hometown, and they captured our hearts.

The café was a few blocks down from the clinic, so it became our go-to before or after treatment. Daisy and Isaiah usually opted for the schnitzel, while Britt and I noshed on salads and pizza. We would sit, the four of us, in our same spot on the patio. Britt a head taller than most of the population, tan and blond. I was fifteen inches shorter than him, also sporting the fresh-off-the-beach look (which secretly means I don’t brush my hair and totally get away with it). Isaiah was the coolest little blondie wearing black Ray-Bans with prescription lenses, and Daisy sparkled with her magnetic personality, freckles, and bald head. Needless to say, we stuck out a bit among the Israeli hipsters.

From the first day we walked into that café, the servers were friendly to us. We would sit for a couple of hours sometimes, killing time before treatment. We played cards over and over, our bottoms planted on those trendy black chairs. And, without fail, those darling young Israelis would show us kindness, usually in the form of a treat on the house. Sometimes it was a huge and luscious wedge of cold watermelon garnished with mint and feta; other times it was a perfectly round scoop of icy pink gelato. Once it was tall skinny glasses of lemonade slush, particularly refreshing in the sultry weather.

We came to love those kids, love the way they treated us. We learned their names and shared hugs, and they loved us too. They had become a sweet connection to the land, to the people. One day, as the boy with the afro brought over yet another gift for us to eat, my husband looked up at him and said, “Why are you so nice to us?”

Embarrassed, he looked away and, in a voice barely intelligible, said, “It is our mitzvot.” Mitzvot, the plural of mitzvah, is a commandment from God. God commanded His people to perform acts of kindness — a tangible way to give and receive His love. The boy with the afro and his coworkers saw a dying girl and her family and poured out love the best way they knew how.

This was a stunning revelation.

The kindness, the love, the intentional connection with what’s right in front of us — all this was God’s idea. It came back to Him.

He was behind the comforting gestures, the feeling of fitting in and simply being with each other. He is behind all of our deep longings for relationship, and He personified it when His Son walked the earth.

Mary of Bethany has haunted my thoughts for a while now. I imagine her in that ancient, dusty, delightful place. Her story shows me that something really precious lies beneath our need for being people of presence. Something more than unplugging, more than putting overconnection and overcommitment in its place. Something more than just rising above our current circumstances, more than just enjoying a physically and emotionally healthy way of being. There’s a profoundly sacred reason we are driven to discover what’s most important.

I’ve been going on and on about presence, about choosing peace and contentment. I’ve talked about being with — truly with — each other, about living intentionally and openly. These are healthy things, yes. They are beneficial and wise and fruitful things. But beyond that, there is a fundamentally better reason for shifting our hearts to practice these things, one that I believe Mary saw as she sat at Jesus’ feet with all the chaos swirling around her. One that caused her to make a cameo in another story that made history, as told in the book of John.

Let’s enter Bethany again. Another dinner party, more time with Jesus, more of Martha’s bustling about. Another dinner in Jesus’ honor, another time of human connection, of sharing food and space and trust. Another evening when God Made Flesh came into a little house in a little town and broke bread with a little group of friends. And by this point, as His short and powerful ministry was winding down and He was making his way to Jerusalem to perform the most loving act in history, this Emmanuel had shown Himself to be Healer, Teacher, and Lifter of unruly heads. This Miracle Maker had walked on water, healed the sick, given sight to the blind, and offered living water. He had shown Israel who He really was — by His words, His deeds, His presence. Redeemer. Bread of Life. Prince of Peace. Lamb of God. And He was right there. With them. With the stress case (Martha). With the activist (Simon). With the traitor (Judas). With the formerly dead (Lazarus). With the tax collector (Matthew) and the country boys (Philip, Bartholomew, Andrew) and the sons of thunder (James and John). With the garrulous (Peter). With the doubter (Thomas). With all these ragamuffins He loved so much.

And Mary. Doe-eyed, present, peaceful Mary. Mary, who had discovered the better thing, the thing most worth being concerned about. Who made room for with-ness, who experienced the peace and joy that with-ness sustains. Mary gracefully entered the scene, among all the bubbling conversations, debates, and personalities, among the various scents and tapestries and clay pitchers and wooden bowls. Quietly, she slipped into the room, maybe catching her brother Lazarus’s eye, maybe taking a deep breath. She carried with her an alabaster jar of perfume, one that cost an entire year’s wages. All of her wealth, all of her trust, all of her future she carefully held in that thin, fragile, ethereally elegant vessel. I can see it now, the careful steps she takes, tiptoeing into the room bursting with masculine voices and smelling like spicy food and men sweaty and dusty from the journey. The whole room, swirling with distraction, thick with cultural expectation and tradition. She kept her eyes on Jesus, regardless of the trepidation she must have felt, knowing her actions might again be criticized.

And yet.

The draw of Jesus was so cogent that, right there, in the middle of all the distractions, in front of all the befuddled dinner guests, Mary moved toward Jesus as if it were just the two of them in the room. There, she gave all she had. She broke the jar, poured it out over Jesus’ feet, and, using her hair as a towel, she lovingly covered Him in her most precious possession. She was with Him, in the distraction, in the wake of miracles, in the face of His impending death. She was with Him, in love and adoration, knowing He would be gone soon. And her worship and with-ness filled the whole house with an intense fragrance. Mary had learned what was most important, all right. What had started with giving Jesus her full attention, choosing to listen in the face of distraction, had culminated in an act of worship that went down in history. Worship flowed from their intimacy, from their with-ness. Talk about relationship goals.

Excerpted with permission from Here, Now by Kate Merrick, copyright Kate Merrick.

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Your Turn

Jesus deeply values intentional connection. He wants it with us and for us with others. We can be like Mary in our hearts and our actions by just wanting to break any barriers and stale traditions to sit with Jesus and love Him. And, let’s practice our mitzvoth today, too, and spread kindness to those around us. We’ll never know how much it may mean! Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily

Here Now by Kate Merrick

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