Essay

The Simeon and Anna of Skid Row

By December 23, 2019 8 Comments

When I step off the bus, I’m immediately greeted by the distinct smell of a crush of humanity–30,000 homeless people crammed into six square blocks in the inner city of Los Angeles. They call it “Skid Row.” The kids from our church youth group trickle off the bus after me, hesitant and wide-eyed, clearly out of their comfort zone.

Sam, our team leader, smiles and motions for us to follow him inside an old Ramada Inn that’s been converted into low-income housing (a luxury for those who could afford it). We huddle in the front lobby to receive some instructions. I notice an African-American woman wearing a blue bandanna sitting in the corner. She’s a tiny little thing, wrinkled with age, in her early eighties if I had to guess. She stares straight ahead, rocking slightly and humming to herself as one hand grips an old shopping cart.

“That’s Margie,” Sam says to me. “Let me introduce you to her. She is an amazing, Spirit-filled woman.” He starts to walk towards her and then suddenly turns around. “Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you she’s blind.”

Sam greets Margie with a hug and says he’s brought some friends from Iowa. Margie smiles big and claps her hands together. “From Iowa, you say? Well, what you all doing out here?”

I explain that we’re from a little town called Sheldon and we’re spending a week doing mission work with a ministry called the Dream Center. “Oh, how wonderful!” she exclaims. “We serve a mighty God, don’t we?” Then she tilts her head and leans in. “Say, let me hear one of you dears give a testimony.”

The teenagers look at me and then each other with nervous glances. After a stretch of silence, Margie says, “You mean to tell me ain’t none of you dears got a testimony?” I make a mental note to make sure we talk about testimonies in the next Heidelberg Catechism class.

“Alright,” she says, “then how s’bout a song. Why don’t one of you lead us in a song!”

I hold my breath to keep from chuckling. I can’t get these kids to sing in youth group with a cool guitar and praise songs, and now old Margie asks one of them to burst out in a song? More silence. I wasn’t about to let us disappoint Margie again, so I get ready to break into “Amazing Grace” when suddenly Margie starts to sing.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

Her low, raspy voice fills the old hotel lobby, bouncing off the walls.

He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.

The kids look at me with eyes that say, “What should we do?” I shrug my shoulders and start to sing along.

He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword; His truth is marching on.

And then the most surprising thing happens. Every single one of the kids joins in. How many times have I looked out in the sanctuary on a Sunday morning, watching them seem bored to death, eyes cast up at the ceiling tiles or heads slumped in their hands, barely mumbling the hymns during congregational singing. But here they are…singing! And singing so loudly it fills the hotel lobby with a robust and glorious sound.

Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory hallelujah! Glory, glory hallelujah! Our God is marching on.

Margie lifts her boney-thin arms and starts to wave them, directing us like we’re her gospel choir. And I suppose we are. Margie who is homeless. Margie who has all of her life’s possessions in an old shopping cart. Margie who doesn’t know from where her next meal will come. Margie who is blind but can see better than we.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

She is old Simeon in the Temple. She is the prophetess Anna, too. She is both. She is the Simeon and Anna of Skid Row.

Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:                                                                              “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,                            according to your word;
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

…And at that moment Anna came, and began to praise God
and speak about the child to all who were looking
for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke 2:29-32, 38

Brian Keepers

Brian Keepers is the lead pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Orange City, Iowa.

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