[Adriana Kassner Cunningham, at her blog Classical Quest, touches on fine literature and the fineness of a family campfire, the simplicity of a woodland walk and the wonder of the written word. I am honored to host her today.]
When I was a teenager I mixed spices for an Italian restaurant. My workstation was located inside a large industrial building on the outskirts of a quaint upper-class village. Every day we baked hundreds of loaves of bread. The heat in summer, radiating from ovens the size of armored tanks, was oppressive. Large box fans offered only hot wind. By the time I clocked-out at the end of each day, my pony-tail sagged; I was flushed, sweaty, and smelled of pizza. And though I wore an apron while working, my clothes were always covered with a dusting of flour.
One evening, on my way home from work, I stopped at the library in the posh, manicured town nearby. Just beyond the entrance, bookshelves beckoned and a quiet coolness lured me. Once inside, however, I felt conscious of the contrast between my attire and that of the other patrons.
I spent a few moments checking the shelves for some books I wanted. Then, when I realized they didn’t have the particular titles I was looking for, I went up to the front desk to ask the reference librarian for help.
She was busy. On the phone. When at last she hung up, she glanced at me then proceeded to type on her keyboard. I waited. After a moment, I spoke —
“Excuse me, Ma’am.”
She held up a finger to signal she would be with me in a moment.
When she finished typing she looked up again, a flicker of incredulity passed over her face as if to say, Are you still here? When I asked for her assistance, she motioned to the far side of the building and muttered some suggestions.
A few weeks later I stopped back by that library to return the books I had checked out there. This time I was on my way home from a church function, so I happened to be clean. I was wearing heels, a tailored black dress, and some expensive perfume which I had received as a gift. The same librarian treated me in the exact opposite manner.
“Hello! Can I help you find anything else today?”
“No, thank you.”
“This book is excellent! Did you enjoy it?
The full eye contact. The broad smile. It really was too much.
“Yes. It was good.”
“Well then,” She pulled out a list. “You might also enjoy these titles. Although there is quite a long waiting list for some of them. Let me see what I can find for you . . .”
Such contrast in how she treated me! Night and day. White gloves and red carpet just because I looked the part.
I suppose the point could be made that good grooming is important. Perhaps I should have planned ahead and at least changed my shirt and brushed out my hair before being seen in public. I would do that now. We show respect for others by putting some degree of effort into our appearance. People cannot help observing our exteriors and, for better or for worse, we are often judged by them.
* * * * *
“But the Lord sees not as man sees . . .”
Imagine you are a guest in the village of Haarlem, Holland. It is 1940. Your watch is broken. Your host tells you to take it to Casper ten Boom, the local watchmaker. You are neither wealthy nor well-educated, yet your host assures you that “Haarlem’s Grand Old Man” will treat you fairly. You learn that he views all people as equal and even counts it an honor to wear a “Star of David” to show solidarity with the Jews who are being persecuted under Hitler’s regime. In fact, all members of the Ten Boom family are devout Christians with a reputation for fairness, hospitality, and generosity. If Casper ten Boom is unavailable to repair your watch, his daughter Corrie will certainly assist you. She is the first licensed female watchmaker in the Netherlands.
In 1971, Corrie ten Boom reflected upon daily life in the watchshop of Haarlem in her memoir, The Hiding Place.
All through the short afternoon they kept coming, the people who counted themselves Father’s friends. Young and old, poor and rich, scholarly gentlemen and illiterate servant girls—only to Father did it seem that they were all alike. That was Father’s secret: not that he overlooked the differences in people; that he didn’t know they were there.
The title of The Hiding Place has a dual meaning. It refers both to Psalm 119:114,”Thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in thy word,” as well as to the secret room in the family’s home above the watchshop where the Ten Booms illegally harbored Jews. In 1944, the entire family was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to prison.
Corrie ten Boom survived the ordeal and lived to be 91 years old, but her sister and father perished while imprisoned. Only ten days after the arrest, Casper ten Boom was tossed naked into an unmarked grave. In 2008 he was honored by Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to victims of the Holocaust, as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations.”
When I first read The Hiding Place as a young person, I was struck by Corrie’s description of her father’s character, especially his unbiased treatment of people from all walks of life. What a gift to be able to see others for who they are: beloved of God and made in his image! Indeed, our world needs people like Casper ten Boom today as much as ever.
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 1:18)
As we submit our vision to Christ Jesus, the eyes of our hearts will become enlightened. The Holy Spirit will empower us to love our neighbors in the same way we love ourselves.
For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)
Let us pray for each other — that we might have the courage to see and the courage to love!