This time of year, with darkness descending across the Northern Hemisphere, finding the light and warmth of community is a challenge for everyone. This week’s new Friendship and Faith story involves two women: Zen Buddhist monk Geri Larkin in the Pacific Northwest and Jane Knuth, the Midwest author of a new memoir, “Thrift Store Saints.” The two women have never met. They’ve never emailed or spoken. But they share today’s story.
Jane published her story, thanks to Loyola Press, this autumn. At first glance, Jane’s story looks specifically Catholic. Her publisher is a Jesuit ministry. Her book’s subtitle is “Meeting Jesus 25 Cents at a Time” and the cover of her book includes a rosary, a Catholic string of prayer beads with a crucifix at the end.
But, not so fast! Jane’s book is about her decades of work with customers at a St. Vincent de Paul thrift store. As it turns out, these stores often open for the day with informal prayer. Throughout each day, they welcome everyone, regardless of their flavor of faith in a spirit of compassionate friendship. We tend to think of “interfaith prayer” as an occasion for a conference, a big public gathering or an educational event. Day after day, though, little corners of America like these thrift stores practice spiritual renewal with whomever walks through the front door.
GERI LARKIN’S STORY:
I go to the north Eugene, Oregon, St. Vincent de Paul store at least once a week. It took me a while to realize that I was partly going for the good cheer that always greeted me. Then I figured out that I was in a church of sorts because every single visit someone, staff and customers alike, was showing me a better way to be kind, or compassionate, or just plain honest. When I read Jane Knuth’s book, “Thrift Store Saints,” I found a soul sister, someone who was seeing what I was seeing, and then some. Jane is her own saint of course—compassionate, energetic, kind and humble. For this holiday season my hope is that the rest of us recognize the Jane Knuths among us, and thank them for their huge hearts and great effort. They keep the world spinning.
JANE KNUTH’S STORY:
I am Catholic and my book does include some basic Catholic teachings, but in my daily life I’m not into theology. I don’t have time for it and, to me, it just seems like a way to get people arguing. We do pray in our store, when we open the doors. Sometimes people who come through the doors get into the circle with us. We’re from all different denominatoins and some of us aren’t Christians. No one is trying to hide their faith here, but we keep our prayers basic so that everyone can share in them.
I remember one woman telling me, “I’ll never forget the first day I walked into your store with a friend and you invited me to hold hands with other people and pray. I so needed a prayer that day!”
One day, a woman came in and she shopped for a while. Then she said, “Aren’t you folks going to pray today?”
I said, “We already did that today—but we can pray again.”
Then, she said, “My cat died today and I didn’t know what else to do. I just felt if I came here today, I could help somebody.” And we prayed together. We helped her; she helped others.
A woman came in on the anniversary of her son’s death. She doesn’t go to church; she just needed to share that experience with someone else.
It’s very powerful to be so open to others. It’s all about being there in the community—being in the neighborhood with your doors open, unlocked. People can come and talk to us. We don’t even have a place to sit; we don’t have a pot of coffee going. What do we have? We share ourselves.
Care to read more about Geri Larkin?
Geri Larkin has been an occasional guest at ReadTheSpirit, most recently in a story about coping with our fears. Or, here is a 2008 story in which Geri talks about her own book, “Plant Seed, Pull Weed.”
Care to read more about Jane Knuth?
Jane Knuth talked with ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm about her new memoir, “Thrift Store Saints,” and her work with people in the community surrounding her shop.
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(Originally published at www.FriendshipAndFaith.com)