"I had a spiritual life, I just didn't know it."

That was one of the lines that stood out for me on Saturday, during the ISP conference about their retreats for the homeless. A woman was telling about her struggles with addiction and homelessness and about how her former life looks different to her now. She was struggling with God all along, but didn't recognize it.

That reminded me of an experience I had at the Catholic Worker about a year ago. I'll quote from some journal entries then (during the difficult month of November):

...a woman showed up on the porch late, very drunk and crying. Her boyfriend had spend her money on drugs, money she had been saving to pay a fine that would keep her out of jail. When she got angry, he called the police and had her removed. Since she had no where else to go, they left her on our front porch.

She cried and talked for a long time. About her losses, her life of pain. And God. She said she believed in God, she believed there was a God, and she believed he hated her. She said she now understood how some women turned to prostitution, how others became criminals. Mostly I listened. And gave her some sliced turkey (she was ravenous for meat, since she had been living on noodles for quite a while). She thanked me for being a friend and eventually was able to sleep.

[For days after that] I remembered one thing that the woman kept repeating in her despairing cries that night. "...And no one cares. No one cares."
What made such a lasting impression on me was that the desire for someone to care is not an immediate physical urge or need. It's ultimately a spiritual desire. The deepest desire— to be noticed, to be cared about, by God.

A couple months later, I wrote:
One thing I have learned here is that it's not true that people can't face spiritual struggles until they have their more immediate needs met. Often it's precisely during the deepest experiences of physical need and suffering that people begin to open up spiritually.
Another man at the conference described a day in his life when his addiction and suffering drove him to the brink of suicide. It was right then, in that moment of greatest desperation, that he heard God speaking to him. "Get up and leave this place. I have something for you to do."

This is part of what makes spiritual work with the poor so attractive to me. I wonder if it's also what caused Jesus to direct his good news to the poor...