I love to people-watch in airports. There are so many stories all around in the pressing of humanity coming and going, waiting and watching, holding on for one more good-bye hug, or running enthusiastically for a long-anticipated hello. There are the young and the old, the weary traveller and the animated vacationer, those flying for grief’s sake, and those flying for the sake of joy. I love to people-watch in airports.
This weekend, in three different airports, I was struck by something to which I had previously paid little attention. It seemed like everywhere I turned, I saw someone kneeling. There was the man kneeling on the floor on the plane-side of security — carryon bag opened, presumably after a search — there he was, kneeling in front of all the passing people repacking his underwear, computer, and spare pair of shoes. Kneeling in the airport.
Then there was the little girl, perhaps three or four years old, kneeling on the floor surrounded by the contents of her bag of toys, lost in her own world of make-believe with dolls and ponies and teddy-bears. What an adventure they all appeared to be having! Kneeling in the airport.
I was struck by the tenderness of the young woman, travelling alone with a really, tiny infant, kneeling beside the baby on a blanket, taking off the baby’s snowsuit. Kneeling in the airport.
There was the man who knelt down to pick up papers that had fallen from his bag, and there was the twenty-something kneeling to retrieve something from under the seat. Kneeling in the airport.
Of all the people I saw, however, one truly gave me pause. Though the kneeling of all of the others caught me, his kneeling was purposeful in a different way. He was an airport employee who was pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair as she deplaned. When they got to the top of the jetway, just before they merged into the flow of hastily moving airport bodies, the man stopped the wheelchair, locked its wheels securely in place, went around to the front of the woman’s chair and knelt down.
I was sitting close enough to hear the exchange. “Excuse me, ma’am, but I noticed that your shoe is untied, and I don’t want you to fall when you get up out of your chair. Would it be okay if I tied it for you?”
Her reply, through an aged, cracking voice was filled with gratitude. “Oh, that would be so nice,” she said. “I can’t bend over to tie them anymore, so when they come undone, I just have to leave them. I’m sorry to be such trouble.”
Swift came his response. “No trouble at all, ma’am. I’m happy to help.” And so this airport worker knelt in front of this aged traveler, paused amid the push and rush of airport traffic, and tied her shoes. Kneeling in the airport.
As I have thought about all of these kneeling people, I was reminded of a favorite book of Advent poems — “Kneeling in Bethlehem,” by Ann Weems. I take it out every year during Advent as a part of my own preparation, reflection, and devotion in this season of watching and waiting. I am moved by all of the poems in this book, but “In Search of Our Kneeling Places” is one of my favorites:
In each heart lies a Bethlehem,
an inn where we must ultimately answer
whether there is room or not.
When we are Bethlehem-bound
we experience our own advent in his.
We we are Bethlehem-bound
we can no longer look the other way
conveniently not seeing stars
not hearing angel voices.
We can no longer excuse ourselves by busily
tending our sheep or our kingdoms
This Advent let’s go to Bethlehem
and see this thing that the Lord has made known to us.
In the midst of shopping sprees
let’s ponder in our hearts the Gift of Gifts.
Through the tinsel
let’s look for the gold of the Christmas Star.
In the excitement and confusion, in the merry chaos
let’s listen for the brush of angel’s wings.
This Advent, let’s go to Bethlehem
and find our kneeling places.
In these very hectic days, amid all of the end of semester work that needs to be accomplished, all of the frenetic pace of the season, it is my prayer that you will each have an opportunity to find your kneeling places, those places where you can, even for a moment, pause in reverence and hope and be drawn into the incredible gift of God in Jesus Christ for you.
Many Blessings —
Dec. 6, 2016
Rev. Charlene M. Rachuy Cox and Rev. James A. Wetzstein serve as university pastors at Valparaiso University’s Chapel of the Resurrection.