Guests washed up today like driftwood. Wet. Soaking wet. Ebbing and flowing in and out of the house. Some came expecting a hot shower and a change of clothes. The hot water heater decided this was the day it would not work. No one complained. We all still had some hope that our plumber could come quickly and fix the problem.
But our hope was disappointed. The plumber did come, but the problem could not be fixed immediately. So plan B. We decided that the men on the shower list would be called in to get clean dry clothes. They would have a chance to wash up and change clothes in the shower room. One guest braved the cold water. He had to. His dirty and pungent clothes went directly into the trash.
The final guest of the morning was so long in the shower room that I went in to see why. I saw why. He was struggling to get his clothes on over feet twisted and gnarled and partially amputated by years of bad shoes and disease. I had never seen this man before. More than half of those who came in for what we called a “dry shower” none of us had ever seen before. Driftwood, pushed up onto shore from the constant stream of misery our society is so adept at creating.
At reflection, a volunteer offered that she heard many of the guests today sharing their sorrows, with her and with other guests. The wet faces may have been from the rain or from tears. Hard to tell. Death. Separation. Job loss. Injuries from accidents at work. Lost housing. Jail time. Struggles with addiction. Family ties broken. The rain, the unending rain. No place dry and warm to stay.
A fight with violent words and physical threats started with an accusation. “You took my phone!” A heated denial followed. The fight was between a male and female guest. They stood just outside the front yard of Manna House. Around and around they went. They moved into the middle of the street and across the street. Yelling, cursing, and raising fists. A guest watching from the porch turned to me at one point and said about the woman’s plaintive cries, “That’s years and years of frustration right there. Layers and layers of hurt.” Another guest called the police. They arrived long after the angry couple had gone up the street, still shouting at each other.
Some days Manna House feeds the souls of guests and volunteers alike. Some days Manna House brings a dark night of the soul. Where is God in all this suffering? Where is God in a society where people are sentenced to the slow death of poverty and the streets? I read an essay yesterday written by a theologian who battled depression for many years. He gave a theological definition of depression: “When your need for God is as great as your feeling of God’s absence” (Stephen H. Webb, “God of the Depressed,” First Things, 2-19-2016). I have seen that kind of agony in our guests and standing near them I feel something like it as well.
I am strangely thankful in this time for the cross, for a faith that puts at its center a Savior who is honest enough to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is not a day to rush to Easter Sunday. This is a day to sit with Lent and Good Friday and Holy Saturday. It is a day to sit with those who are crucified by the sin of the world, by the powers that be, and by their own weaknesses and failings. It is a day to sit with the truth Gary Smith shared in “Radical Compassion: Finding Christ in the Heart of the Poor,” when he wrote, “If I am called to anything … as a Christian, I am called to stride into—not run from—the untidiness and fear and brokenness and shame that is around me, that country of humaneness in which we all live.”