Photo by Kris
Walking slowly up the narrow path,I am filled with uncertainty.What will this be like,praying with homeless women?It is spring and dogwoods bloom along Myrtle Street as I knock on the glass door.A few women are milling about in the front,smoking and I nod and smile.When I walk in the din is jarring.This is my first day of meeting with a Sister of Mercy who ministers to the women at the Day Shelter.For four years, I will come twice a month and gather with a handful of ladies to read the gospel for that day.It is a revelation.
The main room of the shelter is filled with chairs,leather sofas and sleeping bodies.The nun and I gather a group of seven or more and go into a small,narrow room with a few chairs,bare walls and an old steel desk pushed to the side.Sister has brought a plant to bring life to this largely unused space.We open with a prayer, a passage from scripture and then sit in silence."What do these words say to you,I ask?"One will speak and then slowly as tears flow, they will all begin to share.In that small room true things are taken out of their hearts and placed like jewels next to the open Bible.We listen.
The women we meet with stay in a night shelter but they must be out by 6:00A.M.Then they find their way to this day shelter where they can rest,pick through used clothes on the day the room is opened to them or read.At 11:30 A.M., they all jump up ,leave the room and wait on line for the bus to take them to another shelter for lunch and so it goes.
I was always nervous in the living room because there was a fog of tension hanging over everyone.Angry women ready to fight over a place on a sofa amid the women hiding themselves behind the books they got off a shelf.If you smiled,someone might snarl,"What are you looking at"?But in the narrow room, we were in sacred space and with the Bible open on the table,all of us knew it.These were women who for days may not have had a warm touch or even a conversation.After praying, all of us hugged in this white small heaven ,before they had to get back to earth which was the bus line.
What struck me about these courageous women was that never was an excuse given for their plight although some families did horrific harm to them.Their choices brought them to poverty,they said, and they wept for the wrong ones and missed chances.Admirable women in a difficult place.
I thought of this today because of the Saturday after Ash Wednesday scripture.Especially this:
"If you bestow bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted;
Then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like mid-day;
Then the Lord will guide you always and give you plenty even on the parched land.
He will renew your strength,and you shall be like a watered garden,like a spring whose water never fails."Isaiah 58:10-11
What a beautifully moving promise.
Sister Pat has moved to another city and I am intimidated by the drive to Atlanta now but this Lent,these readings ,are really working on me.The poor was always part of the message.What are we doing to satisfy the afflicted? Well,I turned in pieces of gold a few months ago and got two hundred dollars which I have been hoarding,yes, hoarding.I think it's time to let some of that go.It's God's money anyway and He will see that it helps just the right person to give them hope.Amen!