On The Floor

Rev Spaet (1)By Rev. Erika Spaet (right)

*This is the 14th installation of a year-long series of posts from contributors all over North America each answering the question, “How would you define radical discipleship?” We will be posting responses regularly on Mondays during 2019.

I learned to cook from the kitchen floor.

As a kid, while the evening rituals unfolded in our suburban New Jersey home–the nightly news, the coming in from traffic, the smell of onions in the skillet–I would get onto the linoleum floor and recline under the kitchen prep table that held my mother’s cookbooks. From there, I watched her rock back and forth, from stove to fridge, and make our meals. She, my unknowing teacher; me, her odd, lackadaisical student. Something about the canopy of that table made it my favorite place in the house. It’s also where our labrador, Max, used to hang out.

Now, I notice that same rocking, the same stove-to-fridge dance, as I make my spouse and I our evening meals. Our chihuahua, Winnie, hangs out there too, waiting to see how sloppy I am in my chopping.

It is from the kitchen floor that I imagine Jesus’ disciples did their best learning. This is what a disciple is, yes? In the Greek, mathētḗs. A learner. A devoted student. Surely the disciples sat at Jesus’ feet as he taught them. Even better: Jesus sat among them as they all invited one another into conversation. Scholars say it’s likely that people sat or laid on the ground together when they shared a meal in the first-century Middle East.

For me, radical discipleship begins and ends on the floor.
Eager learning. Open-hearted listening. Devoted study.
These are the elements of the art and practice of community organizing,
of which I am a humble and floor-bound learner.

Come! Let us choose to be one another’s companions.
Let us sit at each other’s feet.

These are the first words of a Rumi poem shared with me recently by a Muslim colleague in our work together with the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice (IMIrJ) here in Oregon. Next week, people of faith and hope from across the state will gather together in Salem to share ritual together, break bread together, and walk the halls of our legislative offices together, advocating for more equitable, just and merciful policies for our communities.

Organizing work, advocacy work, hopeful work of any kind: this work always begins on the floor, at the feet of our loved ones, our neighbors. Always begins with our partners, our friends, our faith communities sitting at our feet, midwifing painful/hopeful stories. All of us on our knees, doing this labor together.

We were on our knees, about twenty of us clergy people, around a homemade altar outside of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in Portland last August when we were arrested for blocking the entrance. We kneeled and sang that day because what our IMIrJ leadership had heard while at the feet–literally and spiritually–of detainees at the federal prison. They heard stories of men seeking asylum in the United States who were being detained under horrific conditions, in some cases barred from practicing the faith that had given them the hope to travel in the first place.

We kneeled that day because our leaders had kneeled at the feet of these men, because these men had kneeled in prayer or conviction or desperation or hope that a more free life was possible.

My arrest does not constitute radical discipleship.
The kneeling does.
Come! Let us choose to be one another’s companions.
Let us sit at each other’s feet.

The poem continues:

Come a little closer now,
so we can see each other’s faces.
Inside we share so many secrets,
Do not believe we are simply what these eyes can see.
Now we are music together
sharing one cup and an armful of roses.

In three of the Gospel accounts, we are a told the story of Jesus gathering with his disciples for the Passover meal. But in the Gospel according to John, we are told something else. The meal is over, no fanfare, and Jesus kneels to begin washing the dust and the day off of his friends’ feet. Radical discipleship–mutual discipleship–begins on the floor.

Hafiz said:

How do I listen to others?
As if everyone were my Master
speaking to me
[her] cherished last words.

Kneeling at one another’s feet, in love and in learning, in our ongoing and collective labor.

Rev. Erika Spaet pastors and organizes in Bend, Oregon, alongside the folks of Storydwelling, an emerging community of faith and belonging, and the Immigrant Solidarity Network of Central Oregon.

One thought on “On The Floor

  1. Oscar (Oz) Cole-Arnal

    Dear Sister Erika,

    THANKS for your take on radical action–re: “My arrest does not constitute radical discipleship. The kneeling does. Come! Let us choose to be one another’s companion. Let us sit at each other’s feet.” In my half century of attempting to serve the “Christ of the Streets” I have learned more in this dialogue on the picket lines, marches, jail cells than in the safety of the classroom where I taught the history of Christianity for 3 decade,

    Yours in the Christ of the Streets,

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