Last weekend I learned that a sweet soul from the streets, who I met in my first year of seminary, had died. She has been on my mind and heart in the days since, in meditations and prayers, trusting that she is finally at peace in God’s tender care. As I walked my pilgrimage this summer, through the streets of the Bay area, I came upon many, simple memorials like this one – brave and gentle remembrances of lives lost, sisters and brothers we dare not forget. Let them not fall to the broken lots, among the weeds, nor be trapped behind bars and their afflictions. May Christ’s light perpetual shine within them, until there is no darkness at all.
While I was living in Bayview Hunters Point this summer, I wanted to take pictures on my walks down Third Street, the main drag, and through the neighborhoods. I wanted to capture the scenes of people hanging out on street corners, in “cement park,” and waiting at transit stops. There were gang tags and graffiti, and wild, raw images of street art that could fill an album. I wanted to take back the stark contrast of burned-out apartments above aging storefronts, collapsing next to crisp start-up ventures. Without pictures, would I remember all the bars and locks and barriers, or the huge glass window at Goodwill, shattered in rage? Would I remember the elders, faces broken down by years of strife, or the bold teenager whose menacing glare seared into me? With no photos to jar my memory, will I be able to recall the young mothers pushing flimsy strollers on their way to the market? Will I remember riding the bus through long-neglected housing projects? Or the faces of fear and despair?
The few photos I have are from the mission – representing relationships, yet even these are mere glimpses. May I remember that in the people of God there is great beauty, and love and hope beyond what I can see. May this one photo of Stanley remind me of the whole picture.
Thus we are gathered here: Separate, when we look at whence we came, but united, when we look at you, God.”
Prayer @St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, Mission District, San Francisco – 08.11.13
This past week, children and youth in Bayview Hunters Point came together for Bee Busy Camp at Bayview Mission. At first, it took planned activities to get them to interact. We helped out at the food pantry, sorting and packing potatoes, plums, and melons. The next day we ventured down the T-line to the Exploratorium, which prompted more engagement. By the third day, on a trip to the zoo, new friends were looking out for each other: “Come and see this,” and “Wait for …” It was the fourth day, however, that I witnessed something remarkable. There were lots of productive distractions outside at the mission – crafts, bikes, books, chickens – and the sounds of joyous play reverberated in the yard. As I ducked into the garage workroom, a place of gentler comings and goings, I saw two new friends sitting in a big, comfy chair together. The boys didn’t see me at first, and I got to watch, for just a moment, as they sat side by side, eyes nearly closed, heads leaned back, talking quietly with one another. After they realized I was there, they didn’t act at all startled – not like they had been “caught” – but smiled and greeted me. I asked how they were doing. One of them said, “We like it in here. It’s quiet. We just came in to talk.” The other boy piped in, “You know, to hang out.”
May we all step out of the busy noise of our days now and then, and find a special friend with whom we can quietly chat and just hang out.
Pilgrims are persons in motion – passing through territories not their own – seeking something we might call contemplation, or perhaps the word clarity will do as well, a goal to which only the spirit’s compass points the way.”
Strangers often point to the brace on my leg, sometimes asking why I wear it, and often offering unsolicited advice. “You should check into that doctor …” describing some treatment they heard on television, or “You ought to go to a chiropractor.” When people appear concerned, I usually offer something like, “It’s o.k.; this helps me walk.” I try to listen patiently, marveling at this human desire to fix one another.
It was no surprise, then, when a man approached me at the corner of University and Shattuck this morning, gave a piercing look at my brace, and asked what happened. I responded with my usual short answer, trying to deliver it in a friendly tone: “I’ve had some nerve damage.” The wrinkled brow above wild eyebrows furrowed more deeply, and he gave me a side-ways stare, his long, matted hair flailing about. I glanced at the street light, hoping it would change. I’ll admit that the stench from my observer – a mix of alcohol, sweat, urine, and stale clothing – was making my eyes water, and I felt like I was on the judgment seat – except that I was standing there with him in the morning sun.
How many times has he been stared at? Judged? Told what he needs to do to fix his condition?
“You ought to go to a church,” he said. (“No kidding?” I thought.) “Get them to lay hands on you, anoint you with oil or something,” he continued. “Yeah, pour some oil on it.”
I took a deep breath. He pushed his shopping cart of belongings toward me, as if to add emphasis to his pronouncement. I smiled. A faithful disciple? Modern-day prophet?
“Yes,” I said, nodding in agreement. “Yes, I have. And I feel whole, and healed by that love – inside.” I placed a hand over my heart in my own gesture of emphasis, wondering if I should tell him I am on a path to be a priest.
“Humph.” He looked exasperated. His eyes shot a damning look right into me, and his mouth opened wide, like he was going to hiss or breathe fire. “That’s New Age talk!” he shouted. With a growl, he turned his cart in the opposite direction, muttering something under his breath. In a way, I was relieved. I really wanted to continue this conversation, though I’m not sure what I would have said next.
What would healing, wholeness, and love look like for this man of the streets – not to fix, in my limited, human understanding, but to bring the true new age within his reach? God, grant me the words that need to be said, and the actions that will speak when words cannot be heard …
We’ve hit that pre-spring break crunch, and it seems like everyone at the seminary is slogging through papers and projects. As if Lent were not enough, the weight of deadlines hangs upon us. Over-caffeinated, bleary-eyed, walking around in a stupor, muttering about ancient rites of initiation, and searching for miracle healings … Yet tonight, a few of us emerged from our caves for the ritual “family” Sunday dinner – a great Irish meal from Chef Marcia, before slithering back underground. There is always so much more than food, so much for which to be thankful. A beautiful prayer, and the visual affirmation that we are not traveling alone, weaves into growing connections drawing us even closer together. Laughter and dark chocolate aren’t bad accompaniments, either. It is so life-giving to have those patterns in place – to honor God and one another by gathering ’round the table as sisters and brothers, again and again – reminding us that we always have a place there, even when we are apart, even when we are deep underground.
Emerging from paper writing long enough to catch the Saturday morning farmer’s market on Center Street in Berkeley. Buckets of colorful spring blooms to brighten the day – and an equally colorful produce haul of cauliflower, tender asparagus and broccoli gleanings, celery, kale, apples, watermelon radishes, and my first-ever pomelo. Such glorious abundance!