the poor do not exist, pt.4


[Attention] is something anyone can give. And it responds to the deepest human need. It is often said that physical needs are the most immediate and therefore should be our first priority. But I have to question that based on my experience here. One night I was woken by the doorbell and found a woman on the porch. She was crying. She said her boyfriend had stolen her money for drugs and she had to go to court tomorrow and now she couldn't pay her fine and would go to jail, and when she got angry and yelled at him he called the police and they took her away and dropped her off here. "He smoked my freedom," she cried. I invited her in, then just listened and tried to calm her. "If I had a gun," she said grimly, "I'm not sure whether I'd shoot him or myself." I gave her something to eat and tried to get her to sleep, as it was after midnight. But she was just reaching her deepest grief. "And no ones cares," she repeated again and again. "No one cares."

Thinking about that later, I realized that she was expressing a spiritual need. A need for someone to care about her suffering. Perhaps ultimately a need for God to care. But it wasn't about her pressing needs to find a new place to live or a way to get food, or her fear of going to jail. Right in the midst of those very serious concerns, at her lowest point, the need that rose to the surface was a spiritual one.

While living here I've also spent some time learning about 12-step programs and attending an Al-Anon group. I was surprised to discover that these programs are primarily about spiritual growth. They recognize that our physical and emotional problems are often symptoms of a deeper spiritual need, so addressing this need becomes the way to recovery. I've even heard people express gratitude for the physical and emotional problems that convinced them to seek help, because they ended up finding healing for their much more important spiritual problems. And 12-step groups assist in this healing without fundraising or costly facilities. They simply share with one another what God has done for them, listen and pay attention, and support each other in community. This is the kind of help anyone could give. And it responds to the deepest, most fundamental human need.