“Through love may we from sin be freed”—Nox atra rerum contegit, hymn attributed to St. Gregory the Great (540-604).
“God bless the coffee… Make it hot!
God bless the sugar… Make it sweet!
And God bless the creamer… May it take all life’s bitterness away.”
The call and response that closes our opening prayer at Manna House had just finished. Most guests were headed to the coffee line. A few surrounded Kathleen, getting their names on the shower list or the list for socks and hygiene. I was approached by a guest who handed me a slender book.
“Here look at this,” he said with a slight smile, “It is about my wife and me.”
I opened the book. It was filled with pictures of this guest and his wife. It told the story in beautiful pictures and short sayings from each of them about their lives and their love following her being diagnosed with cancer.
On one of the pages I read this from the guest, “We done seen a lot, but you just got to keep yo peace and blessin’s in God’s hands.”
These two guests have been coming to Manna House for a long time. They have known poverty, including some periods of homelessness. Now they face the challenge of cancer with a terminal diagnosis.
I finished looking through the book, and I shared it with Kathleen. Then I found the guest. “This is a very fine book. I love the pictures and what each of you has to say about what you are going through.”
“Thank you,” the guest replied, “It means a lot to us to come here. We can feel the love. Be sure to pray for us.”
As I turned away from him I saw another guest getting coffee. He and his wife are regular guests who have been coming to Manna House for years. He is usually rather gruff with few words to say. His wife is quiet too but sweeter. I saw a hospital ID bracelet on his wrist.
“Have you been in the hospital? Are you ok?” Each time I’ve seen this guest lately I have been worried. He has been losing weight and has not seemed as energetic as in the past.
“I went to the emergency room.” And then he pointed toward his wife, “She has the papers. I don’t really understand what is wrong with me.”
His wife shared the discharge papers from the hospital with me, including a prescription for an antibiotic. There was a list of ailments, including several chronic illnesses and one infection that needed the antibiotic. Poverty wears people down.
“Be sure to finish your antibiotic,” I said to the guest. He assured me that he would. Then he looked at me and said, “I’m not doing well. Keep me in your prayers.”
I thought of what I had read in the book from the other guest, “We done seen a lot, but you just got to keep yo peace and blessin’s in God’s hands.” The hymn for Morning Prayer I had read earlier that morning had the line, “Through love may we from sin be freed.” I thought of how sin creates the conditions of poverty that wear down our guests, that lead to illnesses that are chronic and to higher rates of cancer.
I try to believe in the power of love, to set us free from sin, from all the heartache and brokenness and hardship of human life. I have long cherished the vision of the power of love given in the Book of Revelation:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God… And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and God will dwell with them. They will be God’s people, and God will be with them and be their God. God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’” (Revelation 21:1-4).
That is the power of love. I saw that power in the pictures and words of the book the guest shared with me. I saw the power of love in the guests who come to Manna House so faithfully and share their lives with each other, with volunteers, with me. I saw the power of love in guests asking me for prayer, just as I have asked them for prayer. I want to believe in this power of love to set us free from sin, to heal, to bring wholeness. Lord help my unbelief (Mark 9:24).