The flurry of donations and volunteers has subsided. Christmas and the New Year are past; so is Martin Luther King Day. We have settled in for the long haul months of cold, rain (snow?) from now until at least the end of March.
The Church’s liturgical calendar calls this season until Lent comes, “Ordinary time.” The Sunday readings let go of Christmas themes and return to stories of Jesus’ daily teaching and healing, and his challenge to the way things are with his vision of God’s Kingdom, the way things ought to be.
The liturgical color for vestments during this time is green, a symbol for growth and hope. This symbol stands resolute in this time of struggle. I look at our culture, our politics, and our economy. “Making America Great Again” is taking us backwards to a time of even more overt racism, hatred and fear of people seeking asylum, and the shredding of even the limited and fragile safety nets for people in poverty. For my belief in growth and hope to not be Pollyannaish, I must seriously reckon with despair.
As I sat in the kitchen on a recent morning, listening to the coffee percolate, I could hear someone on the front porch, coughing. The cough was persist. I know that in this time of year colds, and flu, and for some guests, bronchitis and pneumonia, will come more easily. Immune systems already weak are further stressed by the cold. People on the streets in ordinary time go back to being villainized or ignored. The Christmas turkeys are all gone.
Guests come into the warmth of Manna House, and in the midst of conversation and names being called for showers and socks and hygiene, they fall asleep on the couches and chairs. The cold weather saps energy, and some walk the night unable to sleep because of the cold. In ordinary time there is no affordable housing, and few shelter spaces, and even fewer (only Room in the Inn), that are free.
On Monday of this week, even Manna House had no heat. Our furnace went out again. While we waited for the repair man the house was warmed by a few space heaters, and a lot of bodies. Together they put a dent into the twenty degree weather, raising the house temperature to about forty.
“It’s better than outside,” one hopeful guest offered.
A few minutes later a guest made a request for something we do not offer, so I said “no.”
“That’s my first rejection of the day,” he said, “I was waiting for it.”
One of our very mentally ill guests told me, “I really like your jokes. I’ve been laughing since last week about the guy who walked into a bar with jumper cables around his neck and the bartender said, ‘You can come in, but you’d better not start anything.’”
I had come across a Bible verse earlier that I shared with guests as “The Word of the Day.” It sounded familiar, like it was from a song. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22–3:23). When I shared the Bible passage one guest started to sing,
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not,
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.
God is present. God hangs in there in ordinary time. The singing guest did not know the rest of the song, so we looked up the remaining verses.
Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above;
Join with all nature in manifold witness,
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.
Great is Thy faithfulness. Not a bad song for ordinary time.
A guest came in from the cold as the last verse was read.
“Good morning,” I said and then asked, “How you doing?”
“Ain’t locked up. Ain’t covered up. Doing fine.”