“Heaven in Ordinary”

“Someone’s gonna die out here,” he said with an intensity that forced me to listen. “We’re treated like animals, really worse. If you treated a dog this way, you’d be arrested.”

I had just come up to Manna House to open the gate before going inside to start the coffee. There was one guest and he had a few things to tell me.

“This ain’t living. It’s dying slow. You might as well ask me to dig my own grave. I’ve got nothing but my self-respect, and they keep trying to take that away from me.”

I’ve known this guest for at least six years. He’s usually quiet, but some mornings he gets quite agitated. This was one of those mornings. Maybe it was the impending storm. Maybe he’d just had enough. I could only listen. Everything he said was true. He ended with a question.

“Will there be coffee today?”

I remembered that he had not been at Manna House since last Tuesday when our power had gone out and we could not open. So, no hot coffee. No hot showers. No warm house in which people could thaw from the night’s chill.

“We should have power,” I said as I unlocked the front door. “We did Thursday, and yesterday.” But as soon as I stepped into the front room I tried the switch to make sure. The lights came on. I turned back to the guest on the porch and said, “We’ll definitely have hot coffee.”

“At least something good is going to happen today” he replied with a slight smile.

The rain started shortly thereafter. Guests waited on the porch until we opened at eight o’clock. The crowd was a little smaller than usual. People with places to stay, mostly stayed put. So the gathering, almost without exception, was of the most desperate. “Where do you go when you have nowhere to go?” This morning “Manna House” was the answer to that question. Those who had arrived tended to stay. Most expressed the hope that the rain might let up enough at some point for them to get to another safe harbor. There was the hum of conversation and occasional laughter.

Late in the morning a guest asked me for the “Word for the Day.” I shared from Psalm 29,

“The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.”

“I could use a bit less of those mighty waters,” the guest said.

His response made me think of how the psalms (and mornings at Manna House) often alternate between lament and praise, between confessional complaint and confident thanksgiving. Sometimes it seems like there is a battle going on between despair and hope. “Someone’s gonna die out here.” “At least something good is going to happen today.”

During my morning prayer, in addition to Psalm 29, I read about George Herbert in Robert Ellsberg’s, “All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time.” Herbert was an obscure Anglican priest in a rural parish. But after his death, the poems he had written became widely shared. He wrote one about prayer. He described how in prayer we come into the presence of,

“A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;

Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,

Exalted manna, gladness of the best,

Heaven in ordinary, man well drest.”

“Heaven in ordinary.” God’s presence in the guests. Hot coffee and a place out of the rain. Manna House this morning.

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