Tending to Woundedness

There is often an intimacy to hospitality that is uncomfortable for both the giver and the receiver. On Monday, Kathleen had shared in this intimacy. Tuesday it was my turn. A guest had been bitten just under his armpit by a spider. Spider bites afflict people on the streets as they try to find rest in abandoned buildings or under bridges. This man had gone to the hospital and the infected area was lanced and cleaned, but his wound was still open and needed attention. So he asked for help.

He stood patiently this morning as I did what Kathleen had done on Monday. I applied some antibiotic lotion to the wound, placed a gauze bandage over the wound, and then wrapped an ace bandage around him to keep the gauze bandage in place.

Doing this kind of first-aid was not something I had expected when we opened Manna House eleven years ago. But in those years we have bandaged a variety of wounds, some small, some large. Some we could not handle and we took the wounded person to the hospital.

Offering hospitality keeps me close to wounded humanity. The wounds are not always physical. There are just as often emotional and spiritual. Tending to those wounds often means just listening or standing with the person in prayer. In offering hospitality, in treating those wounded, I have also become more aware of my own woundedness and limitations. Hospitality requires recognition of some level of shared vulnerability, and to get to shared vulnerability we need to get close to each other, as close as binding up a wound under an armpit. Hospitality offers in the midst of shared vulnerability and intimacy a deep respect for the human dignity of the person receiving hospitality.

As I have thought this week about how we as wounded treat the wounded, I have returned to two people who in their own ways responded to wounded humanity and who have inspired me over the years. Both died this past Saturday and their deaths have been weighing heavily on my heart. At Mass on Sunday one of the songs included this line from Scripture, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). But as I sang, I felt defeated and stung by the deaths of June Averyt and Daniel Berrigan. I realized I needed to do some remembering in anticipation of resurrection to come, and to move in the interim toward some healing in my woundedness caused by their deaths.

Both June and Daniel were heroes of mine in responding to the wounded. I knew June better than Daniel, having worked with her through Manna House. She came by Manna House at least once a week, looking for a guest with whom she was working or seeking out others who she might be able to help get into housing. June was our “go to” person for getting people housed. She knew plenty about the woundedness of people on the streets, and she was forthright about her own woundedness. “I am not easy to work with,” she would say, “I can be prickly.” She was not being falsely modest, just honest. Dan was well known for his response to those wounded by war. He was a peace activist. But he also practiced hospitality, working for a number of years with AIDS patients in New York. Dan also did not suffer fools gladly. He was quite adept at puncturing pompousness, often with humor.

I knew Daniel Berrigan much less well than June. I interviewed him as part of my research for my PhD dissertation. Then at various times our paths crossed, at Jonah House in Baltimore (a community his brother Philip and Liz McAlister started), and at Kalamazoo College where his nephew Jerry Berrigan was a student of mine, and a few times on picket lines or activist gatherings.

Both June and Daniel were grounded in their responses to woundedness by their deep faith. Their faith was not sentimental and not ostentatious. They were thoughtful questioners and seekers, but within churches with traditions of reflection and liturgy that provide space for dwelling with Mystery. The way things are is not the way things have to be was a conviction that guided both of them because they both had the conviction that there is a God greater than mere human convention and human arrangements. At the heart of this God is love and justice, and both are necessary for our lives to be fully human.

Both June and Daniel knew that wounds are caused by cuts made by powerful systems of injustice that do violence. So both were quite skeptical of the powers that be. Both resisted those powers in their own way. June resisted by working through the nooks and crannies of the system, much like a weed forcing life through the cracks in a sidewalk. She was skilled at getting grants and working the system for the people she served, those who were on the streets. Dan was notorious for his acts of civil disobedience, especially as a member of the Catonsville Nine and the Plowshares Eight. Neither was under the illusion that their efforts would by themselves overturn either homelessness or war, but as Dan said, “Just because you can’t do everything, doesn’t mean you have to do nothing.”

Both June and Daniel knew that resisting a wounding system and responding with love to the wounded required a sense of humility and humor. Daniel often wrote of the importance of “modesty” by which he meant living within our humanity, accepting our limits as part of the goodness of human life.  We are all so wounded by arrogance and pride, the overreaching of humans into weapons of mass destruction, over-consumption, and claims of national and racial superiority. Daniel’s poetry and many books display his humor laced with realism that puncture such arrogance, such as his famous line, “If you’re going to be a disciple of Jesus, you better look good on wood.” June had little patience for grandstanding or drama. For her it was important to simply get the work done, to get people into housing and keep them there through the nitty-gritty of community support.

I doubt that June and Daniel ever crossed paths. Except in my life they did. I have a hunch that if their paths cross in heaven they will be good friends. For both of their lives I am grateful. In faith I hope to meet with both of them again. In the practice of love and hope they will continue in my life now. May they both enjoy the blessed presence of God. Thursday I expect one of us at Manna House will be treating that spider bite again.


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