opening the door a little wider?

A couple recent conversations has we wondering if we should offer retreats to tired staff who work with the poor. As I heard some of their frustrations, and some bitterness, I did feel real compassion for what they're dealing with. And I can identify with some of the struggles, from our difficult days at the Catholic Worker. Maybe that's where the compassion comes from.

We actually have had staff come a number of times, and those retreats went well. But the idea was always to provide a one-time introduction so that they could send groups from their ministries in the future. I'd still want to focus on the retreats directly for the poor, but right now we could offer staff retreats and still have plenty of time for the few groups that have been coming so far. I suppose, indirectly, retreats for tired staff workers could also be a help for the people they serve.

I guess my main concern is that we might be straying from the vision that we started with. I reread the essay we wrote about what we were hoping to do here. Maybe one of the feelings I had that wasn't written there was that I was tired of challenging and critiquing people. I wanted to "proclaim good news to the poor." I wanted to focus on the anawim, and encourage them and reaffirm their importance to God. I still do. And I've been happy with the retreats we've had, and the opportunity to focus on Jesus' good news.

I'm sure, especially among workers in ministries to the poor, tired workers, I'll encounter the spirit of the anawim as well. That kind of work can really teach humility. But I know there's also a certain heroism among ministry workers that can get in the way, and the hardships of the work isn't always enough to break that down. I've heard people working with the poor that end up blaming God (even talking about "putting God on trial") because of the terrible things they've seen happen. Their well-developed sense of justice just rebels. It's strange, that this response seems to come much more from the helpers than the ones suffering, in my experience. So there's some lashing out at God, and at anyone who holds to more "traditional" religious views like omnipotence, or providence, or "Lo, I am with you always."

I don't know how I'll respond to that. I hope I can see it for what it is, an expression of frustration and pain. Maybe, though, a few words of challenge could be helpful (even hopeful) in that situation, when the person is really trying to live what they believe.

I'd still want to give priority to retreats directly with the poor, but maybe it wouldn't hurt to at least try some staff retreats if people are interested. And if they have a good experience, they might be more willing to bring groups from their ministries.

If we're screwing up, or wandering off, I expect God will let us know.