3.31.2006

the poor do not exist, pt.3

Continued...

I also grew tired of spending so much effort trying to help a few people who didn't seem to be trying very hard themselves, or who were even undermining the help that was given. I know it's Catholic Worker tradition to "not discriminate between the deserving and undeserving poor." And I agree that is the best approach when we first encounter someone, before we've had time to discern the patterns of their life, before we understand the true nature of their needs. But once we get to know them it doesn't help to act as if we didn't, responding indiscriminately. Jesus didn't respond indiscriminately. To some he gave food (and to some no food, Jn 6.26ff), to some healing, to some forgiveness, to some a confusing saying, to some a rebuke. Loving does not mean responding indiscriminately, but finding the true need and being a part of God's response to that need.

I've learned this means asking questions. Maybe that's obvious. But when we sense that someone is in need we often stifle our questions. Perhaps because we don't want to embarrass them. Or pry. Or maybe we don't want to know the seriousness of their need, because then we would have to choose whether to get involved or turn our backs on them. I know I've shied away from people for this reason. But in my experience here at the Catholic Worker, I found that the people who were truly in need and looking for help were usually very willing to explain their situation. They were often relieved to simply find someone who was willing to listen to what they were going through. Someone who would pay attention. Simone Weil said that giving our full attention to someone who is suffering is "a very rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle." Yet this is precisely what love is. Giving our full attention, not turning away.


continued...

3.30.2006

the poor do not exist, pt.2

Continuing from yesterday:

The mistake of categorizing the poor inclines us to separate them from ourselves and also encourages the idea that we can meet their needs in some universal, generalized way. Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin challenged these tendencies in their teachings on personalism. They taught that poor people were not so different from ourselves and that we should meet them and offer help as one human being to another. They also taught that we should treat each person as a unique individual, with their own particular needs. Seeing the person in front of us and treating them as a person, just as we would anyone else.

The early Catholic Workers attempted to put this into practice by getting personally involved, by inviting needy people into their own home. These efforts were applauded by many. But, while this inspired other "houses of hospitality" and got many others involved as volunteers, in most communities the house of hospitality has become one more place delegated to care for the poor. Instead of caring for the poor person personally, people now refer them to the Catholic Worker house.

That's been my experience here. We've had people referred to us by the police, the hospital, the bus station, social workers, even their own family and friends. One evening, a woman called trying to refer a homeless woman and her two young children. When I told her all our beds were full, she got indignant, saying she had tried all the other shelters and why wasn't there any space for this mother and her children, did I want them to sleep on the street? She went on and on, even threatening to "write a letter to the editor." Her indignation was beginning to irritate me. So I came right out and asked her, "Why don't you take them in yourself?" She stopped. Then said, quietly, "I don't know them." (We did let them sleep on the couch that night, then found something more suitable for them the next day.) That indignant woman had begun to get personally involved, but not yet to the point of actually welcoming the stranger.

Eventually I grew tired and overwhelmed by the constant referrals. It concentrated those with big needs and big problems all in one place, which is not good for anyone, and they just kept coming. We had to turn many away because we just didn't have room. It reminded me of the overworked, overwhelmed pastor. Why are needs always referred to the pastor? Didn't Jesus teach all of us to love our neighbors whenever and wherever we meet them?


continued...

3.29.2006

what I learned at the Catholic Worker

Yesterday I had an idea for an article for the upcoming newsletter (the last one we'll be here for). About what I've learned here. I think I'll post it as I write it:


The poor do not exist
and other things I learned at the Catholic Worker


The poor do not exist. This has become quite clear to me during these seven months living and working at the Catholic Worker.

There is always much debate about "the poor." The problem of the poor. How to care for the poor. A preferential option for the poor. Jesus is often said to have called the poor blessed. (What he actually said was "Blessed are you poor," speaking to his disciples. Lk 6.20) But when I moved into a house with those labeled "the poor," and began to get to know them, I could no longer lump them together so easily. These women I lived with were not the poor. These men who came to the door again and again were not the poor. They were people, as individual and diverse as anyone else. They were not all alcoholics or thieves or liars. They were not all irresponsible. But they also were not all simply victims of society, of unjust systems, held down by the rich and powerful. They were not all the same. Many had been burdened with difficult problems by others, though each responded in different ways. Some seemed themselves to be the cause of their own worst problems, though of these some were beginning to change while others seemed stuck. Having met these unique people, I think it is a mistake to generalize and categorize them as "the poor." The poor do not exist.


continued...

3.28.2006

"beautiful like the earth"

I've been noticing that the flowers sense that spring has arrived. It's always a hopeful sight, and makes me aware again of the insistent life in growing things.

So I was in the right mood this morning to really enjoy the short story that Heather has been revising. Here's an excerpt (the main character here is Eve in the garden of Eden; "Ya" is her name for God):


I stood by the water feeling the drops slide off my skin, feeling the sun's light calling them into the air, and looked. In the water I could see the sky and the trees, but moving, always moving, and the light moved so quickly on it, so joyfully, like his eyes on my face, that it made me want to do something. To move my feet on the earth as the light moves on the water, move my hands in the air as the swallows move in the sky. To dance.

When he came to the water I showed him. I showed him, and the water ran down his cheeks and the sun danced on it, and he was beautiful. He said I was beautiful like the sky and the leaves in the wind and the light on the water, but more. Then he said “more” again, and then again, and I kissed him.

He is beautiful like the earth. When he lies asleep on it I don't see a man asleep on the earth, I see the earth sleeping, deep and rich and brown, dreaming of the roots of trees reaching down like fingers. His fingers hold the earth when he sleeps, and I run my fingers through his hair, thick as grass and black as the earth and the sky when the sun is gone.

He does not see me then; I see him and he does not see me. The first time I woke in the night and found him sleeping there was a strange feeling in my chest, as if a hand inside was clasping itself too tight. I looked at him and he was not-there. Beside him there was a vine climbing a tree, a vine with tiny white flowers that have red in their depths; but now under the black starred sky the flowers too were not-there. Closed like a closed hand, pointed and white: no red, the depths hidden. And in his face that lay just under them there was no him, his mouth and his eyes were closed and he did not see me nor know I was there; his depths were hidden like the red heart of the flowers. I thought that if I looked away and then looked back he would be not there at all. He would dissolve and fall back into earth, and I would be left alone in the blackness of the sky.

It happened in the time it takes a bird to fly from one tree to another, or an otter to slide down the brown bank into the water. I woke, and looked, and the hand tightened in my chest, and then a bird called three high short calls that were like three stars, and I looked up. The shadow of wings over the river; the bird called again, and the stars danced on the dark smooth skin of the river, and I remembered that Ya saw us both.

3.27.2006

more on the strange situation

Thinking more about the recent CPT hostage situation, I recalled something interesting. When Erin was telling me about her work with CPT in Colombia, she said they were able to offer some protection to the people there (even though they carried no arms) because they were American citizens, and the local militias were very reluctant to attack American citizens because of the political and possibly military response it would cause. So even though the CPTers were not happy with the U.S. contribution to the problems in that area, they were able to take advantage of their U.S. citizenship to help the local people. From the stories I've read of their work in Palestine, they seem to use the same principle there. And even in Iraq, I believe, they were able to gain better access to U.S. officials because of their citizenship (and also their willingness to use the press) in order to get information about Iraqi detainees.

But as I thought about the hostage situation, I realized that the reason the hostage-takers took the CPT members was precisely their U.S. citizenship. The "Swords of Righteousness Brigade" weren't against the work of CPT. Many other Arab and Iraqi groups supported the CPT work and pled for their release. But the hostage-takers didn't seem interested in what CPT was doing or saying. They were interested in getting at the U.S. forces and forcing them to release Iraqi prisoners, so they kidnapped U.S. citizens and used the media to pressure the U.S. to give in to their demands.

Thus the tool that CPT had used for their protection (and the protection of others) had suddenly become the precise cause for their being attacked.

This also reminds me of my recent struggles here. I thought I was being given access to a great resource to help others: the money and use of this facility. And it did seem to be able to offer some help. But it also became the reason for people attacking me, not because they had anything against me but because they wanted the money and access to the house. (Just yesterday a woman was threatening me because I told her the house was full.) It was a power I thought I needed to do good, but it was a human power, and many others are interested in using that human power for their own purposes. When I took up that power I suffered because of it.

I keep remembering Jesus' words, "Those who take up the sword will perish by the sword." Perhaps that applies to the other forms of human power as well.

3.24.2006

a very strange situation

Yesterday the three remaining CPT hostages in Iraq were rescued by the military. They had been held a long time, and one of them had been executed, causing much grief and worry and prayer among people I know. Thank God that the others are free.

I've thought about this quite a bit. Because it sets up a very strange situation: CPT went to help the Iraqi people, strongly criticizing the U.S. as the oppressor, but then found that the greatest threat to their lives came from among the Iraqi people, and they were subsequently rescued by the U.S. military. When CPT initially issued a statement after the rescue operation, perhaps befuddled by the strangeness and unexpectedness of the situation, they didn't even thank their rescuers but again criticized the occupying forces, basically blaming them for the kidnapping. (I was pleased to see they added a statement of thanks yesterday evening.)

As I thought about it, their situation reminded me of my own. I've also found it strange to have come here to help the poor, seeing them as victims of an oppressive society, and then find that I suffer most, not at the hands of the oppressive society, but because of some of the very people I've come to help. And when I compare that to Jesus' suffering, I wonder why it looks different. [In an online discussion I said it's like trying to imagine Jesus being captured by a rogue group of zealots and then being recued by the Romans.] In a previous journal entry, I wrote:

Those who came to attack Jesus were those in power, who felt threatened by him. These were his persecutors, who he rebuked. He was not caught in the strange situation that I've often faced here, of being attacked by a person I'm trying to help, or dealing with a demanding beggar. Or providing food and shelter to someone who will go off and use drugs as soon as the next opportunity arises. But, as I've said before, Jesus put himself in a different position. What he offered did not draw the demanding beggars...

Not that I'm trying to put all the blame on the poor (or the Iraqis) or trying to justify the oppressors. But I do think it doesn't work to simply take sides. There are many among the poor (and the Iraqis) who are a big part of the problem, just as the oppressors are a big part of the problem.

I think recognizing this will help avoid the confusion of finding ourselves in such a situation as this. And also trying to follow Jesus' example more closely. I don't see Jesus getting into such strange situations; but I need to think about this some more.

3.20.2006

not paying enough attention

I was really caught off-guard last night. Maybe because I've been focusing too much on our next step--a good letter came from the Mahoneys yesterday, with pictures--and not enough on the situation I'm still in.

A guy I'd gotten to know a little during my time here showed up last night and asked for me. He had recently come back into town after a serious suicide attempt, his left wrist still deeply gouged though it was mostly healed. They'd had to use staples to close the wound. And he was saying he was depressed again, wanting to talk to someone. I sat with him for a few minutes, heard that this had been his thirteenth suicide attempt, and suddenly felt I was in way over my head.

I listened to him a bit more, and mentioned my 12-step experience and asked him if he'd considered a group like that. At the same time I helped him call a local pastor he knew (who wasn't home) and the local suicide-prevention crisis line. That call didn't seem to go very well. After talking a while he grew frustrated and hung up, storming off. I couldn't stop him.

I've been praying he made it through the night. And I don't blame myself, though I felt my response wasn't the best. It was just too much for someone with my lack of experience. But I hope I can do better next time, maybe with this guy if he shows up again or maybe with someone else. I should have offered him dinner and sat with him, or took a walk with him, probably the crisis line was a good idea but I should have offered more as well. Maybe if we had had more time together I could have thought up something better to say (like pointing out that God had saved his life thirteen times now, maybe he doesn't want him to die yet). It was important enough that I should have just set aside my plans for the rest of the evening; after he left I couldn't think of anything else anyway. Probably just giving him attention for a while would have been the best anyone could have done for him. I was just overwhelmed by the severity of the need. But that's the kind of helping I'd like to offer; that's what I've been saying recently, right?

And now I remember this passage from Waiting for God, by Simone Weil:

Not only does the love of God have attention for its substance; the love of neighbor, which we know to be the same love, is made of this same substance. Those who are unhappy have no need for anything in this world but people capable of giving them their attention. The capacity to give one's attention to a sufferer is a very rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle. Nearly all those who think they have this capacity do not possess it. Warmth of heart, impulsiveness, pity are not enough.

In the first legend of the Grail, it is said that the Grail (the miraculous vessel that satisfies all hunger by virtue of the consecrated Host) belongs to the first comer who asks the guardian of the vessel, a king three-quarters paralyzed by the most painful wound, "What are you going through?"

The love of neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say to him: "What are you going through?" It is a recognition that the sufferer exists, not only as a unit in a collection, or a specimen from a social category labeled "unfortunate," but as a person, exactly like us, who was one day stamped with a special mark by affliction. For this reason it is enough, but indispensable, to know how to look at that person in a certain way.

This way of looking is first of all attentive. The soul empties itself of all its own contents in order to receive into itself the being it is looking at, just as he is, in all his truth.

Only those who are capable of attention can do this.


I expect I'll get another chance before long...

3.18.2006

you

Reading Matthew 14 this morning, I was reminded of this meditation I put together a couple years back...


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3.16.2006

another look back

Heather just sent out a letter to friends telling about her experiences here and her Africa plans for the summer. I thought this part fits well with my last entry:

How can I sum up what I've learned? "The poor" are not "the poor." They are individuals with names and histories that are often not open to someone like me when she approaches them. They are all different, though they might all seem the same at first meeting because they will all have their best face on. (All but the best and the worst.) Some of them are lying to you, and some of them are not. This is painful, because you get cheated and feel betrayed, then you turn around and cast harsh suspicion on the next person, who turns out to be innocent and emotionally vulnerable.

And also, just because they're poor doesn't mean that spiritual concerns pale before material ones in their case. I've seen more spiritual suffering this year than any other kind. I'm not sure how to explain this. Especially briefly, and this needs to be brief, because this is not the only thing I'm writing to y'all about. Suffice it to say I've come to hold this view very strongly, that one of the best, truest and most respectful things I can do for "the poor" (at least, if I stay in America) is what a few of God's people have done for me: they listened to my life as if it mattered, they told me God meant better by me than I could imagine, they helped me try to figure out what He was doing and how I should respond. That's what we need. What everybody needs. That's why I got excited when Paul read about, and got interested in, a different Catholic Worker: a little place in the country near Washington, DC, that offers spiritual retreats for free, to homeless and low-income folks. They're biblically based retreats based on the 12 Steps, which I've found to be quite biblical and spiritually accurate, but I'll leave it at that in the interest of brevity...

3.14.2006

a look back

The last couple days I've been reading my journals since I arrived here, going back to September of last year. Interesting. There is a definite change to be seen. Some might call it burn out or disillusionment, depending on what they think of the work. I guess I see it as a growth process. Taking me to a deeper understanding and a next step.

It's a little painful to read what I wrote so hopefully about some people and then look at what happened to them later. One couple I really tried to help turned out to be alcoholics, were asked to leave our house because of the terrible disturbances, and then I found out the husband was picked up on an old charge and is now in jail. Another woman was overtaken by her mental illness and refused treatment so is now on the streets again, but still shows up at our house fairly often demanding things. A man I admired for serving despite his disability turned out to be a heavy alcohol and drug user (and had to be asked again and again not to set up camp on our property, because he was attracting other disruptive drinkers). He is also in jail now. A deaf man we've tried to help has become a problem, too, because he won't cooperate with attempts (ours and many other people's) to get him off the streets but continually comes for food, showers, and blankets. Even Willy, who I thought offered a story of success, turned very bitter towards us again before he disappeared.

But this perspective doesn't invalidate those beautiful early experiences. They were still beautiful. And there are still those moments, like last Friday night. We gathered around a homemade pizza dinner with several ladies from the house, laughing and teasing one another. Then there was a good movie and popcorn. Donna even watched, though she is legally blind. After the movie she reached out for my hand to help her get up, then gave me a little pat as she thanked me and said good night.

And I still enjoy seeing the sun streaming through the glass front door in the morning. And Saturday breakfasts. The last one was pancakes, just Mary and me in the kitchen, everyone else still asleep.

Polly Mahoney sometimes describes her years at the Catholic Worker house in DC as "the crucifixion" and her retreat work with the poor as "the resurrection." I imagine it might be like that for me as well. But I won't forget the good times here or the many people whose lives touched mine.

3.10.2006

mmm, foamy

Heather and I have really enjoyed going to the local Irish pub on the first Sunday of the month, sharing a pint of Guninness and listening to local Irish musicians sit around and play and sing. So when I was looking for a funny cat picture for Heather's desktop, this one seemed perfect...


3.09.2006

"it is not you who speak"

The area where I have been most inclined to "work hard" is in preaching or teaching, preparing things to say in a talk or trying to write much or write well. Many other Christians also put a lot of hard work into this. And Jesus also preached quite a bit. But does his preaching show a lot of hard work on his part, preparing sermons, writing long treatises?

I immediately recall how Jesus speaks of his teaching in John:

"I have not spoken on my own authority; the Father who sent me has himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has bidden me." (Jn 12.49-50)
Again, he speaks like a prophet. Jesus' words are not his creation, his work; he speaks God's words as he is told to speak them. And the same thing appears in his instructions for his folowers:
"You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you." (Mt 10.18-20)
They are to preach, but it will not be their hard work that produces the words, but the Spirit of God speaking through them.

This is further emphasized by the fact that Jesus and most of his disciples were not well educated:
About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught. The Jews marveled at it, saying, "How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?" So Jesus answered them, "My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me..." (Jn 7.14-16)
Because this helps people see that the teaching is God's and not some human work, it is not surprising that Jesus picks mostly uneducated fishermen to be his spokesmen. People's response to their teaching was the same as to Jesus: "Where did they get this?" Which is an excellent question to be asking.

And then there's Paul, who was well educated. Yet he seems to have been careful to honor Jesus' words to his first disciples: "It is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you." In the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes of setting aside his abilities to speak impressively or with the human art of persuasion:
When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling; and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Cor 2.1-5)
Again, the reason is that God should be the center of attention, and that people's faith should rest on him, rather than on the abilities or craft of the speaker.

This all seems to point in the opposite direction from "hard work" in preaching. Not that I think that we should never think through what we say or write (in God's name) and always expect immediate inspiration. But I do think it suggests strongly that inspiration is far more important than craft. And inspiration is not our work, working harder will not make it any more likely to come (maybe less likely...). In this we must "wait for the Lord." Patient faith is what God responds to, a broken spirit waiting to be healed and filled and used for good. Lack of ability, lack of education, lack of hard work, these are not hindrances but may even be advantages. If these are part of a true poverty of spirit.

"Learn from me; for I am meek and lowly in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls."

3.08.2006

being prophetic

"Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me;
for I am meek and lowly in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls."


For some reason I thought about the prophets yesterday, maybe because the discussion group here talked about Hosea (or because we just watched Prince of Egypt, about Moses). It's very desirable to be called "prophetic" these days. This usually means that, like the prophets, this person or group courageously speaks out against an oppressor, telling them they are doing wrong and that they should repent and act justly. This image is especially popular among activist Christians. But is this all it means to be prophetic?

In modern times, at least among more mainline groups, the "prophesy" part of being prophetic is downplayed or ignored completely. It's seen as "fortune-telling." But I think there is something important in this aspect of the prophetic witness. The prophets did not simply denounce the oppressors' deeds as unfair or evil, they announced God's judgment. They proclaimed that, if the wrongdoing did not stop, calamity would fall on the oppressor from God's mighty hand, which would come to rescue his afflicted people. This is not just telling the future. This is announcing God's will, what God would do. And the difference between a false prophet and a true one was whether this announcement actually came to pass. Did the prophet speak for God or not?

My point is that the prophet was not the one who made things happen, brought about the change for the better--it was God. The prophet simply announced what God would do and God did it.

Modern day prophetic types seem to ignore this aspect. They tend to denounce injustice, then immediately set about trying to fix it themselves. They muster resources and kick off labor strikes and letter writing campaigns, try to elect their political candidate or get their bill passed. A big popular following (usually through heavy use of the media) is seen as the way to victory. They wouldn't presume to say what God is going to do, but they can predict what their strength-in-numbers might be able to accomplish. And hard work. There's always more that can be done for the cause, and the heroes are the ones who work the hardest.

But Jesus wasn't like this. He was prophetic in the fullest sense. He did denounce injustice, but he didn't attempt to fix it himself: he announced what God was doing about it and what he would do in the future. Jesus did not set about the hard work of "building the kingdom of God." He announced that the time was fulfilled, the kingdom of God had arrived for those who embraced it, and that in the future God himself would wipe away everything that was not part of his kingdom. The kingdom of God was God's perfect work, and God's gift to us.

Even in the healings that seemed to be so much of Jesus' initial work on earth, we see not Jesus' labor but God's act. The demons were not cast out by Jesus' professional counseling. The diseases were not healed through Jesus' medical expertise or the work of many hospital employees. Jesus simply spoke the word and God worked. Jesus prophetically announced what God would do for those who had faith.

This is not "hard work" as we know it (and praise it so highly). It is humble work. It is merely being God's instrument. It requires meekness and lowliness of heart, and it offers rest for our souls. Not the burdens of responsibility, the weight of "making it happen" ourselves, but the rest of knowing that this is God's work and God has the power and will to bring it to completion.

More tomorrow...

3.07.2006

hard work?

I came across this familiar passage this morning and it brought together some thoughts that had been swimming around in my head:

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Mt 11.28-30)
I've always been quite sensitive to the burdens of responsibility. And also the social admiration given to those who take on a lot of responsibility and are "hard workers." I've experienced that to be just as prevalent among Christians as anywhere else, though I don't recall Jesus ever commending hard work. I suppose the social pressure and our material needs are motivation enough for most people.

In the midst of this pressure (especially high among Christian activists), these words of Jesus are a great relief. I'm continually drawn back to Jesus' promise of the "blessed" life, the life of the kingdom of God that he offers us right now, and this also includes our work, which Jesus seems to describe in a very different way than most of us experience it. An easy yoke? A light burden?

I was reading another Catholic Worker book yesterday (which is a habit I've gotta quit) and it spoke of the heavy labor of hospitality and caring for the poor as being part of the suffering of the Christian life. I've wondered about that before. It seems clear that we should expect suffering if we follow Jesus; he experienced it himself and predicted it for his followers. But is it the suffering of heavy responsibility and a lot of hard work?

I'm thinking no. Jesus says "come to me," not to take on heavy labors but to rest from our labors and burdens. The sufferings Jesus faced were not responsibilities and work he took on himself. His suffering was under persecution, enduring the ill-treatment of those who turned against him. And persecution was also the suffering that he told his followers to expect. Not the constant fatigue of the workaholic or the driving stress of the activist, but the patient endurance of other people's "hard work" against us.

There are endless bosses in the world who want to lay burdens on us or conscript us to work hard for their purposes. Jesus is not one of these. He says, "I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy, my burden is light."

More tomorrow...

3.06.2006

3.02.2006

"all the day long"

Yesterday, reading Psalm 25, these lines caught my attention:

Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.
Especially that part about waiting for God. I remember writing about this about five years ago, gathering the many passages that speak of the importance of this "waiting for the Lord."

At that time, I focused on the difficulty of waiting patiently, and the value of waiting as a spiritual exercise. The struggle with boredom, lethargy, despair. And wanting to strike out against the injustice we see. The importance of training ourselves to endure: "Those who endure to the end will be saved."

But my recent experiences have provided another perspective on waiting for God. Back then, I painted this waiting as a sort of heroic act, a self-sacrifice, a virtue to develop. That's not completely wrong. But my recent waiting has been much more desperate. As this year began, I really didn't know if I could last here until the summer; I even made several efforts to escape. And when I finally began to accept that God wanted me to wait here several months before taking my next step, it didn't feel heroic. It felt like trembling obedience. It felt like I had been crushed by the situation and was only willing to now go along because I felt defeated and helpless and scared. It felt like a desperate last chance. I was willing to wait for God's deliverance because I couldn't see any other good way ahead.

For the first two months of this waiting, things continued to seem pretty dark and uncertain. Now it's beginning to look brighter. It feels like the end of the wait is not so far off, maybe another two months, with the way ahead from there becoming clearer and more promising. I'll probably leave here in May, visit my parents with Heather, then the retreat place, then take another long walk. Hopefully I'll be returning to the retreat place after that.

In this context, waiting for God has seemed like another aspect of radical dependence on him. The anawim wait for God. Because they have no one else who will help them or deliver them. It's a humble, desperate waiting. The proud cannot bear it; they lose patience and must take matters into their own hands. The poor don't have this option. They must wait.

3.01.2006

on the right track

It was great to see Heather's smiling face when I arrived at the train station in Champaign. And when we got back to the house, she showed me the latest letter from the Mahoneys (the couple that run the retreat place in Virginia; I had written them a long letter before I left describing my thoughts on 12-step spirituality). Near the end of their letter were these encouraging lines:

You ask if we think you are on the right track. And as it seems to us you are on the same track that we are on we can only give a resounding YES. But, more, Paul. Because all that you have recently shared echoes where we are at and points in the same direction we are headed it really does begin to point to the idea that the Lord may be calling us to walk together in community and ministry.
It looks that way to me too.