“For It Is In Giving That We Receive”

I will undergo surgery tomorrow morning. So, this morning when I led our usual opening prayer at Manna House, I asked our guests and volunteers to pray for me.

The surgery will remove something in my lungs that does not belong there. The official term is a “pulmonary nodule.” It might be malignant or it might be benign. Either way, I will be in the hospital a day or two after the surgery. If malignant, the surgeon will take more of the lung tissue around the nodule, and there will be some follow up conversation, and possibly additional treatment. If benign, the initial recovery is the same.

After the prayer, I was surrounded by guests offering that they will keep me in their prayers.  I need to put this another way, I was surrounded by love.

I thought later in the morning of this line from the Prayer of St. Francis, “For it is in giving that we receive.”  In the fourteen years Manna House has been open, there has been a lot of giving, but I have received and continue to receive so much from our guests.

This is one of the amazing realities of offering hospitality. It is not a one way street. It is not the “haves” dispensing favors to the “have nots.” Rather, hospitality provides a sacred space in which each of us is freed to give and to receive.

Leonardo Boff, a Franciscan liberation theologian, has written, “there are two economies: one of material goods, and one of spiritual goods. The two are governed by different logic. In the economy of material goods, the more one gives away goods, clothes, houses, lands and money, the less one has.” But he adds, “in the economy of spiritual goods, when more is given, more is received; when one gives away more, one has more… Spiritual goods are like love: when they are divided, they multiply. Or like fire: as it expands it grows.” And he argues, “it is urgent that we vigorously incorporate the economics of spiritual goods into the economics of material goods… It makes more sense to share than to accumulate, to strengthen the good life of everyone, than to avariciously seek the individual good.”

This is the economy of manna. God freely provides. We share and do not hoard, and there is more than enough for everybody. In giving we receive.

This is what hospitality at Manna House coupled with justice seeks to do: sharing material goods in a way that respects human dignity so that we can all flourish, spiritually and materially.

This is what I know from hospitality shared at Manna House. When I (with the help of many other volunteers and donors) welcome our guests and give coffee, showers, clothing, and a place of dignity and respect, I receive love. Not the cheap love of superficial friendliness, but the costly love of sharing our lives, including our sorrows and our joys, our brokenness, and our shared need for human community, and for God’s grace.

So we have had weddings and memorial services at Manna House. We have been to hospital rooms and in jails visiting. Guests surrounded Kathleen with prayer when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. I was surrounded with prayer when my Dad died seven years ago. We lifted up in prayer a volunteer and a guest this morning, both of whom have cancer. We prayed this morning for a guest who lost his partner to death. We share stories from our lives. We even argue politics and religion from time to time. All of this giving and receiving in the “spiritual economy” goes on as goods in the “material economy” are shared.

In this Trumpian age, in which the vile forces of disrespect of other human beings because of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation are strengthened and amplified, it is all the more important to create spaces in which we welcome each other as we are—children of God made in God’s image, committed to giving and receiving.

Tomorrow, I will be lifted up by the prayers of the guests of Manna House. Because of the giving I have been able to share at Manna House, I will receive those prayers, that love, and be blessed.

Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

Wade in the Water

Memphis has seen an abundance of rain over the past week. The remnants of Hurricane Barry brought days of heavy rain.

On Monday and Tuesday morning guests at Manna House arrived from the streets soaked and tired. Some were as sullen as the low heavy clouds. Others tried to find a silver lining, “Well, at least its cooler,” or “It will be good for crops and gardens.”

Whether sullen or silver lining finders, guests sought shelter from the rain, and we all crowded into the house or onto the front porch.

One guest had creatively covered himself with a combination of trash bags to make a rain suit. He was neither overtly sullen nor looking for a silver lining. He headed straight to the coffee. And then he made for a couch. There he finished drinking his coffee and then promptly fell asleep, the water dripping from his rain suit onto the floor and the couch.

A few guests asked me about the weather forecast. We looked at a radar map on my phone and determined that the rain would last at least through late Tuesday afternoon. This did not lift any spirits. “Last night was a long night trying to find a dry place,” said one, “gonna be a long day.”

Later in the day, I shared with Ed Loring of the Open Door Community in Baltimore how the rain had affected our guests. Ed’s forty plus years of offering hospitality to people on the streets was reflected in his email me back to me, “I am sorry for your guests.  The natural elements are enemies of the poor most often.  The people of Bangladesh await the full force of the waters of the recent typhoon to wash their houses away.  Yet, I sit here at my desk in ‘Ibo’s Place’ hot, tired and wishing for rain.  Damn the contradictions of life.  Damn economic inequality.  Psalm 23 and Black Jesus are correct.  There is enough with baskets left over for all.”

That got me thinking about the Bible and rain. The silver lining finders among the guests reflected Psalm 65:9-11.

“You care for the land and water it;
you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water
to provide the people with grain,
for so you have ordained it.

You drench its furrows and level its ridges;
you soften it with showers and bless its crops.

You crown the year with your bounty,
and your carts overflow with abundance.”

Maybe the sullen guests reflected the story of the flood in Genesis. There the rain becomes a deadly force, as it creates a flood so that “Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died” (Genesis 17:21-23).

Earlier in Genesis, in the first creation story in Genesis 1, God creates order out of the chaos of “the waters” (Genesis 1:1-13). In Exodus, God drowns the pursuing slave catchers—Pharaoh and his army, in the sea after Israel passed through to freedom (Exodus 14).

In the Bible water is life-giving or death-dealing, depending upon where one stands with God’s efforts for justice and liberation. The prophets make this abundantly clear (Amos 4:7, Jeremiah 3:3, 5:24, 14:22, Hosea 10:12, Isaiah 45:8, 55:10, Zechariah 10:1, Joel 2:23).

In the early church, Jesus’ disciples followed him into the water, and baptism became a sacrament of dying to slavery to sin and rising to new life in Christ, liberation that is loving and life-giving. Later followers of the Black Jesus created a song of liberation for their escape from slavery, “Wade in the water, God’s gonna trouble the waters.”

Manna House, I hope, is a way station on the road to freedom, a dry place in the midst of rain; that also shares water and coffee to drink and showers and dry clothing. Offering a place of sanctuary, offering hospitality, is not the promised land of deliverance, of full justice. Manna House is shelter from the rain, not housing. Manna House, like the manna in the desert, is not the fullness of the promised land, flowing with milk and honey. At best, Manna House is a place of sustenance along the way. I know we have a long way to go. There will be more rainy days ahead. But a change is going to come.