He pushed the wheeled walker ahead of him as he came up the sidewalk. I have known him ever since we opened Manna House nearly fifteen years ago. He is a big man, broad shouldered, heavy but not overweight. He played football when he was young, many years ago. He has worked hard all his adult life, physical labor, warehouses, construction, landscaping. About a year ago he started walking with a cane. Today was the first time I have seen him with a walker.
“How are your legs” I asked him.
“Not good. They may have to go they say.”
“My legs. The doctors say my legs may have to go.”
“That’s not good.”
“What can I do? If they go, they go; but not without a fight.”
Realism and resistance. I have learned this lesson many times over from guests who come to Manna House.
Realism. Life does not bend to our wills. There are some things no matter how hard we try that we cannot change. Illness and death are part of life. Evil persists and gets embedded in our personal and institutional lives.
Resistance. I do not have to like this shadow side of reality or embrace it or surrender to it. I can accept illness and death without being foolhardy about my health or willing to consign others to death too early. I do not have to submit to evil, either personally or institutionally.
The guests teach the realism and resistance at the heart of Christian faith and discipleship. There is a world in need of redemption; and there is a Redeemer incarnate in human life. There is crucifixion, imposed by the powers that be, and there is resurrection, the power of life and love at work in the world. There is evil, and there is good that will not be conformed to evil and will resist evil (Romans 12:21).
Realism and resistance. Another guest on Thursday confirmed the lesson. She is the first to arrive on Thursday mornings. She has always been a regular guest, but now she is among the few who make up a kind of faithful remnant in this time of offering reduced services. She consistently has two cups of coffee. She always arrives alone and leaves alone. She does not say much. But her eyes are bright, and her smile is ever present. She struggles with mental illness and with poverty. She worked in corporate America until something gave way in her life and she ended up on the streets. She is housed. She lives on a disability check, and with carefully predetermined rituals that provide stability. She knows what she has to do, and she does it.
The Psalms provide prayers that reverberate with realism and resistance. Realism recognizes, “All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning” (Psalm 73:14).
Resistance draws from another Resource.
“Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26).
Likewise Psalm 88, realistically recognizes the hardness that comes in life.
“I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death” (Psalm 88:3).
“I am shut in; I may not go out my eyes are dim with grief” (Psalm 88:8b-9).
And faithfully calls upon God in resistance.
“But I, O Lord, cry to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 88:13-14).
In these days of pandemic, I need my teachers at Manna House to share with me this lesson of realism and resistance. And I am grateful to them and to the echoes of this lesson in Christian faith and the prayer of the Psalms. Together they provide wisdom for the long-haul journey.