What I witnessed next was probably the most moving thing I’ve seen yet. I was standing maybe 20 ft off to side of the only entryway to the barricaded area with two others who I had just met. Earlier I had noticed in the crowd a woman who had Occupy Catholics band draped around over her shoulders that hung down on either side of her. We had suggested to a Spanish woman who appeared lost on the sidewalk saying she was looking for Occupy Faith that she might be able to find out something from her. The Occupy Catholics woman and another woman were holding signs referencing Bible scripture. They were standing near the entryway when a slightly disheveled-looking but buoyant fellow came up remarking how different the place looked at that moment and walked inside where he was greeted by others. The person I was standing with thought he had just been released from jail, and smiled that he probably came right back to join the protesters.
“Would you like your feet washed?” asked another protester. The gateway area was generally where people were congregating; things were left around there, nearby food had been brought in to feed people. It wasn’t a visible spot and you couldn’t really make out what was happening unless you were right there, yet here was one of the most humbling, compassionate and graceful acts I’d ever seen in public. Up the twenty or so steps and all around inside the barricaded area were lots of colorful people, and the crowds had begun to thin and pass by. This submissive act of abasement, a manifestation of Christ performing the slave-like duty of washing the master’s feet as a gesture of love toward his disciples and a reminder they were in service to each other, wasn’t witnessed by many in the streets there. It struck me like a thunderbolt. I immediately thought of Thomas Merton, the poetic Trappist Monk who authored one of my favorite books “Seven Storey Mountain,” and how reflective it was of his writing. I thought to myself, at that very same moment that there was a very good chance right around the block a businessman in suit and tie was having his shoes shined. A metaphor escapes me now. Much in the same way a broker getting his shoes shined could never imagine degrading himself thusly, or show any kind of weakness or humility, in the same way many on the sidelines avoid OWS because it is a direct challenge to their conscience.
Food was being served for the protesters, organic hemp hats had arrived and were distributed. A rare sense of community, sharing and taking care of one another, which is at the core of this movement, was ever more present.
The amount of support OWS gets from religious leaders doesn’t get much reported in the media. Yet there have been signs of it everywhere since the very beginning. I can think of many instances of having seen and talked with priests, ministers, rabbis and monks, finding stacks of the Catholic Worker (with a front page endorsement) at Zuccotti Park. I remember a Long Island priest holding a protest sign who remarked that he was wearing his collar because he was indeed doing ministry work standing with the protesters. The many churches who have donated to the Occupy movement, most prominently Riverside providing tents for the protesters, and Judson Memorial opening its doors to offer sanctuary to the displaced right after the eviction, remind us of the true mission of those institutions. And according to a symposium called “Occupy the Mind: Progressive Moral Agenda for the 21st Century” with by Cornel West, Union Theological Seminary President Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, Editor of Tikkun Rabbi Michael Lerner, and Senior Riverside Church Minister Rev. Stephen H. Phelp, the Occupy movement represents the “true revolution of values” King sought.
Read the full article here.