In seminary, we were taught to find God active in the world around us. It is possibly the most consistent spiritual discipline that I practice. Which is why I pulled into the Kroger lot to both buy food and find God. I did not expect God to hold me a parking place, though I did look to the sky watching for God in some sensational form on the off-chance the second coming was nearer than I thought.
Immediately upon entering the store, I was reminded how much I detest grocery shopping, especially near a holiday, even a holiday as insignificant as Halloween.
Yards of black and orange crepe paper draped every available surface. Pez dispensers with pumpkin heads were scattered among virtuous apples. The entire store smelled like Candy Corn, and I thought: do they make fresh batches of this every year or did someone once make way too much and we keep bringing out the old bags every year?
I resumed my search for God in Aisle 3, but instead found huge, vulgar-looking, plastic molded pumpkins grinning down at me from the top of the shelf. Some had lights in them. Some laughed when they sensed motion.
I wondered where God might camp out in a grocery store. I looked near the bags of charcoal. I looked near the bread and wine. I looked near the devils food cake.
I thought I might be getting warm when the Muzak began playing Chariots of Fire…but that was drowned out when I passed the trout. You’ve seen them – the rubber mounted trout with marble eyes who turn their head off the plaque on which they are mounted to face you as they sing “Take Me to the River” or, more recently, “gimme back that filet o’ fish…gimme that fish!”
I nearly forgot my God-quest when I was waiting in the checkout line. In front of me stood a tall, stately, woman with skin the color of charcoal. She had a tattered orange and brown flowered scarf wrapped around her head. A crumpled list stuck out of the ripped pocket of her beige polyester rain coat. She wore navy slacks and tennis shoes. It wasn’t until she turned to put her groceries on the conveyor, that I saw her neck. Her entire neck was covered with long, gray-black tattoos that resembled barbed wire twisted into a design that surely linked her to a specific tribe. The patterns continued: on her forehead; her temples; her cheeks.
I knew she was not from around here. I wondered how she had come to be in the Kroger on Broad Street in Columbus.
I don’t know how I expected her to pay, but I was surprised when she pulled out an ATM card and ran it through the debit machine by the cashier. Unfortunately, it did not work. Her forehead wrinkled as she tried to understand the cashier who was explaining to her that she needed a different card. I braced myself for the familiar traffic snarl in the checkout. The cashier repeated herself more and more loudly, in a vain attempt to get the woman to try another card. The cashier had a thick Swedish accept that was difficult even for me to understand. The two were becoming more animated and frustrated with one another, when the store manager showed up. As luck would have it, HE spoke with the thick accent of someone who had just moved here from Russia.
Purposefully, he strode up to the tattooed woman and in a relaxed fashion began motioning for her to reopen her wallet. To my surprise, she did. Then, expertly using hand motions, eye contact, smiles and nods, the manager got the woman to try a different card. And it worked! In record time, she took her receipt, her groceries, and left.
The manager patted the cashier on the arm reassuringly, and then abruptly walked away as if nothing had happened.
And then – the Swedish cashier began to ring up MY groceries!
And THAT is where I found God.
In the checkout at the Kroger on Broad – dismantling the Tower of Babel.
Originally written September 2000