Love and the Specter of Poverty and Death

The rain had just ended. I even saw a double rainbow as I drove toward Manna House. God’s covenant writ large in the sky, the one Noah told about.

                        “God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth” (Genesis 9:12-13). God’s promise of life, of care, of good for human beings.

As I approached Jefferson and Claybrook, there he was, tall, gaunt, a white sheet wrapped around him, a spectral figure standing under the little overhang of the building across from Manna House.  I couldn’t see his face as the sheet went up over his head. Then for a moment I lost sight of him. Where did he go? I wondered, was this the ghost of Jefferson and Claybrook?

As I got ready to cross the street, he reappeared from behind an electrical pole. Sweet relief: a Manna House guest.

“What you doing wearing that sheet? You scared me half to death! You look like a ghost!”

“Keeps the bugs off me at night” he said matter of factly.

We walked across the street in silence. I opened the gate. Other guests began to appear as if out of thin air. Everyone had been taking cover from the rain, but now they could get up on the porch and be ready if the rain resumed.

The spectral guest turned to me, “When’s it all going to end, Pete?”

“What do you mean?”

“When’s it all going to end? The poverty. The homelessness. I’m about out of hope.”

“I don’t know.”

“You all do what you can and you all are lifesavers. But it doesn’t look good from out here.”

“I know.”

The grief he carries, the grief our guests carry, needs to be acknowledged. But beyond acknowledging it, I won’t make false promises about “It’s going to get better.” I’m not hearing poverty and homelessness as major concerns among politicians, voters, or church goers.

At the end of the morning, Sandy came out from cleaning the shower room. She had the shroud of the spectral man. He had come in and showered and left with clean clothes. The shroud had splotches of dirt and was soaking wet. It was discarded; too dirty to launder.

All morning I had thought about my inadequate response to the spectral man’s question: “When’s it all going to end?”

All morning it was like the air had a hangover, a stale reminder of yesterday’s excessive steamy heat.

Where do I go with the suffering of our guests? Where do I go with the injustices and insults that they bear? When’s it all going to end?

I still cannot answer that question, except to say, “I don’t know.” What I do know is that there is a power that endures, and that power I believe will eventually end poverty and homelessness. It is the power of love, God’s love, God’s rainbow covenant of love, and our love for God and each other and the creation. That’s the power that got me up and got me to Manna House and keeps me going back.

Dorothy Day the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement to which Manna House seeks to be faithful, said, “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”

For Dorothy Day, that love took on very concrete meaning. It is that love that we try to share in the hospitality at Manna House. Dorothy Day wrote, “What we would like to do is change the world—make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do. And, by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, the poor, of the destitute–the rights of the worthy and the unworthy poor, in other words—we can, to a certain extent, change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world. We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever widening circle will reach around the world. We repeat, there is nothing we can do but love, and, dear God, please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as our friend.”

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