From St. John of the Cross' Sayings of Light and Love:
"God is more pleased by one work, however small, done secretly without desire that it be known, than a thousand done with desire that men know of them. The person who works for God with pure love cares nothing about whether men see him, but does not even seek that God Himself know of them. Such a person would not cease to render God the same services, with the same joy and purity of love, even if God were never to know of them."
What could be more counter-cultural than this sentiment? It is my good fortune to have encountered such souls. I recall having dinner with my husband in a restaurant some years ago, when I noticed a member of my parish at the time - a well-known theologian - walk into the restaurant with a woman and her children. We had walked passed the same family on our way into the place. They had been sitting on the sidewalk, passively begging for assistance.
Without much ado, our theologian friend got them a table, spoke quietly to the waitress, and handed her some cash. He then left just as unobtrusively as he had arrived. The family enjoyed a good meal. What our friend didn't know is that we, too, had been fed spiritually by his example.
Of course, his generous action wasn't done for me or for him. It was done for the glory of God, which is the human being fully alive, including those human beings that we so easily walked past on the street eager to fill our own bellies. The kingdom of God is established on the basis of such hidden labors and the movements they create for justice and peace. For every Dr. King or Mother Teresa there are thousands upon thousands of these humble souls bearing them - and the world - upon their shoulders.
One of the most beautiful examples of this truth is the work of City Slicker Farms in West Oakland. They are creating urban farms and gardens in one of the most economically and environmentally exploited communities in the Bay Area, providing food security and building a healthy, sustainable economy. This emerging alternative food production and distribution network, focused on those most in need, is quietly fomenting a revolution; a nonviolent secession from the global economy so that families no longer need beg outside of restaurants.
Learn more about urban farming in Oakland here.