I apologize for not updating the Cavanaugh book review. I got stuck this weekend in some personal doldrums and have not been able to sit down with chapters six and seven and work out a synopsis. And I didn’t update Stuff Found in Library Books on Monday either. Same reason. I promise I will get to that Thursday.
Frankly, this blog has been something of an intellectual distraction from some things I have been dealing with for the last two years. I would really like to talk about it all, but I do not feel that I can at this point — really, I just don’t feel safe enough to do that. It’s difficult and unpleasant and church related. It could more or less make the last six years of my life all for naught. I mean, not really — nothing’s ever wasted — but it also could simply make it all pointless. And that’s about as far as I’m willing to go with this.
So, this is a personal blog entry. And it’s peripherally related to the above.
There’s a homeless woman here in Hyde Park, I’ll call her Shawna. I’ve seen her around, and gotten to know her, off and on since Jennifer and I arrived six years ago. Helped her out with a dollar or two, bought some toiletries for her when she was living in a halfway house. Mostly, though, I took the time to listen to her. At first, she did what a lot of street hustlers always try to do — talk up that she was trying to get her life together. So that whatever I could give her would not be “wasted.” But after a few encounters, our conversations became a little more human. She stopped trying to pretend she was getting her life together, and instead started talking about her hopes that her life could be put back together. Again, mostly I listen. I think that’s the most important thing anyone can do for anyone. Especially someone lost on the street.
So, a couple of weeks ago, during our first big freeze, I ran across Shawna, trying to pilot her bicycle across an icy street.
“Good morning,” I tell her. In my cheerful way that must puzzle and frighten some.
“No, it isn’t,” she responds, and then she tells me all about the difficulties she is having trying to find a warm place to stay. A warm, safe place to stay.
“Do you know what that is like?” she asks me.
“Only kind of. Not like you, but kind of.” And I explain to her when Jennifer and I were homeless for a month in San Francisco many years ago. Because there were no jobs and we ran out of money and friends to help.
She nods and wonders if San Francisco really is a better place to be homeless — no winter and all that. I respond that I really don’t know.
And then she asks me: “Am I going to be okay?”
She starts to cry, and wonders what it was that she did that God should punish her the way God has. She relates some of the awful things in her past — and they are awful. Then she stops to breathe, and looks at me.
I take a deep breath. “You’re going to hate my answer. If by okay, you mean you’ll have a place to sleep and food to eat, I don’t know if you’re going to be okay. I can’t tell you that. I wish I could, but I can’t. But I can tell you this: you have not been abandoned by God, even though it feels like it. You are not alone. I know it feels like it. I know you feel like God has left you, forgotten you, but God hasn’t. God is with you. And that means no matter what, you are okay. I’m sorry, I can’t give you a better answer than that. It’s all I have. It’s all I know. It’s a terrible answer.”
“No, that’s a good answer,” she says. “Thank you for being honest. And you’re right, I know God is with me. It’s hard, but I know it. Every day I wake up, I know God is with me.”
She notes how icy the street is, and says to me she probably should walk her bike rather than ride it. And then she asks me: “Would you pray with me?”
So I take her hands, and we pray. I pray. She prays. On the sidewalk, in the cold, I call out to God, remembering God’s care for God’s people in the wilderness, remembering the times Jesus came among those who were sick and lame and cast out and his healing them and making them whole, and I demand — as Israel demanded — that God care for Shawna in the wilderness. As we prayed, our breath made little clouds that floated and evaporated in the air. She then asks me if I could help her out, and I give her what I have — $8.
And then Shawna looks at me. “You do know what it’s like.”
“Only kind of.” And I tell her a little bit about my current situation. How I’ve been studying to be a pastor, but have had some … difficulties. Many I caused for myself. It has not been the easiest journey, and some people on this journey have been unwilling to get to know me, to really meet me, to know who I am.
“There are a few people who think I shouldn’t be a pastor,” I tell her. “And right now, they count more than others. I don’t know what’s going to happen. All I know is I have to trust God. It’s all I have.”
“Well,” she said. “I know you should be a pastor. I just know it. Remember, God is with you too.”
She blessed me. I blessed her. And we went our separate ways.
It’s been strange, because at times when I have most needed some kind of reassurance that I am truly called to this, to be a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Shawna pops into my life. And she always manages, in our encounters, in her circumstances, to remind me that I am indeed called. Because there are times, given what I dealing with, that I need that reminding. It’s hard to remember sometimes.
So, wherever you are Shawna, I hope that you have managed to stay warm. And safe. Because I look forward to meeting you again.
And I ever get ordained, I want you to be there.