WALKING TO WORK YESTERDAY I saw one of the multitudes of unhoused that roam our streets. He was hunched over, draped in his blanket, and wearing a large floppy hat. He looked, it struck me, exactly like so many ancient engravings (such as heads up this post). And as he passed me, he was engaged in a very adamant discussion with unseen partners. The craziness of the homeless is not legendary but real.
Two things came to me.
On the one hand, the thing that stands between him and me, that prevents my craziness from ending up in the street is no mystery.
I’ve only worked with the homeless for (nearly) two years, but I also worked in a rehab clinic in North Carolina for four years as well. The painful reality is I suffer from many of the same issues expressed in the lives of our guests: OCD, control issues, depression, addictive tendencies, PTSD, shattered families, financial risk, etc. Once, chatting with our guests, it felt as if I were looking into a mirror. It’s not the choices we make – this man had made many of the same ones as myself – rather there must be something else. But, again, it is no mystery: I have family and friends to call on who are not addicts, etc. I have a community of support in the Church and in my jobs. Even living thousands of miles from my parents, I have a strong enough relationship with them that I can ask for help. Before I fell too far, strong hands would lift me up. I took the job I currently have exactly because a predecessor told a friend of mine, “You’re a member of this parish. You will not be homeless.” That’s what love is all about: and many of our guests do not know love in their lives. Love stands between us and them.
And it’s our job to show them love even though they are so broken that they cannot now even see what we offer as love. We must love them even if it hurts us to do so. Over and over. For they are the abandoned icons of God, that need calling home.
And as these thoughts ripped through my brain the second thing arrived, as it were, from God.
As that man is in his addiction, I see all of you in your sins.
We are all that crazy man, wandering the streets wrapped in smelly blankets of our sins. Some of us decided on sexual sins, some on financial ones. We pick sins of infidelity or pride. We take up blankets of greed, gluttony, or sloth. Yet the deeper we fall into our sins the more – spiritually – we just become raving lunatics. We are all of us wrapped in the odor of our immorality and repellant to God and to each other.
And God chooses to show us love even though we are so broken that we cannot now even see what he offers us as love. He loves us to the point that it hurts him to do so. Over and over. He will not abandon his icons even as we scream against his voice and block our ears, preferring to talk to our imaginary friends which are – in fact – the demons instead of listening to our Divine Eternal Lover whispering our names: calling us home.