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'God Working Anonymously'

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By Carl Winderl

As a poet and professor of poetry at a Christian university, I am ever alert to William Blake's inclusion of "entertaining angels unaware" in his "Holy Thursday" poem as well as the Pauline injunction of the same in Hebrews 13:2 — "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it."

Transpose those passages with tired, poor, homeless, street people; folks down on their luck, lost, forsaken; tempest-tossed, huddled masses, wretched refuse of society: nowhere to go, and nowhere to be ...

Folks of that ilk often find their way into our non-denominational Sunday Evening Worship Service in Ocean Beach, California. A sandwich board outside Hodge Hall, a fellowship space in an otherwise all-but-closed-down United Methodist Church, announces us: "Peace River Fellowship — service at 5 p.m. — food & fellowship following at 6:15 p.m. All welcome!"

And so they come: those left-out of America's mainstream dream. Some for the service; a few for the fellowship; and many, no most, for the food. So, we're OK with that. "We're" maybe 20 to 30 in number, kids included; "they're" often more than us.

That's when I met Michelle. And her Divine Mercy tattoo, emblazoned on her right forearm, a little faded, and dotted white here and there [see sidebar below]. But its faintness, I suspect, gives it more "street cred." Even so, Christ's visage, robe, and crimson and crystal beams of light plainly shine visible and effervescent, as well as underneath it in bold-faced Old English script: "Jesus, I trust in You!"

I didn't talk to Michelle right away — I overheard her, seated in the row of folding chairs behind me. She stated to her friend beside her, loud enough for me to easily overhear, "I just want to see what kind of fellowship they have here ... "

And so when it came time to "pass the peace," I stood immediately and turned to her. That's when I first looked at her tattoo; then into her eyes — as much as I could. She was wearing little purple octagonal wire-rimmed sunglasses, in the style John Lennon made famous.

I looked down again at her tattoo, then said to her, "For the sake of His sorrowful Passion ... " But before I could continue, she finished off right away with, "Have mercy on us, and on the whole world." That was enough for me.

When it came time for the food and fellowship time, I made sure to sit next to her and her friend.

Michelle's clothes were serviceably worn and street worthy, as were those of her friend. They both appeared street savvy and smart, but Michelle did all the talking.

I right away brought up her tattoo, the only one she appeared to have, on her right forearm up to her elbow pit where her rolled-up sleeve started. I asked when and where she got it, and why.

"About 20 years ago or so; up in the Bay area; because I kept running out of the little Divine Mercy prayercards," she said. "I decided this way I'd never run out of the cards; I'd always have one, or it, with me, and it would never fade away."

Then I asked what kind of response she got to it and from what kind of people.

"Most people seem to see it, but don't say anything at all. But those who recognize it — the vast minority — they speak right up. And we talk about it, some. Often also about St. Faustina and St. John Paul II."

That was the first Sunday evening they ever showed up; and they haven't been back since.

Oh, that Sunday evening service when I first met Michelle and we talked? It was the first Sunday after Easter. Divine Mercy Sunday, of course. A coincidence? Of course not.

Carl Winderl is a professor of writing at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California.

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Don Neal - April 20/2020 - Apr 20, 2020

I met this Carl guy standing in line at a McDonalds in OKC a few years back and we have developed a kind of relationship ever since. Lots of his writings are over my head but most sound logical enough. Most of the time he is with his daughter who also seems pretty bright. I think I'll keep on following him till he pushes the envelope sometime and offends me.

Annie Karto - Mar 14, 2018

Carl Winderl is an amazing writer of articles, poems, and a great study on people. You inspire me Carl to use my gifts with all my strength, to build up the Church...and be His Mercy to others.. beautiful storyteller, beautiful story

Sonia - Oct 27, 2017

Now this made me smile. Thank you for sharing this.