The hospital, the jail, or the morgue. These are the three likely places where Manna House guests have gone if I have not seen them in a while.
One guest disappeared about a week ago. He showed up this morning. He had a cast on his right arm that ran from his fingers to just below his shoulder.
“I tripped and fell on a sidewalk. I’ve been in the hospital. They’ve done three surgeries on my arm.”
He had an awkwardly large and wide sling going around his neck and holding up his arm. He asked for something that would not chafe his neck so much. I suggested we try a tie. I went in and got several from the clothing room. With a little adjustment he had a new slender and non-chafing sling for his cast.
I was approached by another guest later in the morning. I had not seen him for several months.
“Where you been?”
“Jail. Do you know how I can get my Social Security started again? They cut it off when you’re in jail.”
The Social Security office on Cleveland is still closed to walk-ins due to pandemic restrictions. A person can make an appointment online. Not so easy for someone on the streets. I gave him a few options, like using the public library for computer access.
A week ago, I was told that one of our guests had died of COVID. I have not been able to confirm that rumor. I certainly have not seen him, so I can still hold out the strange hope that he might be in jail or the hospital.
Many years ago, the Open Door Community in Atlanta (now in Baltimore) had a large crucifix with the Christ figure dressed in donated clothes from the community’s clothes’ closet. “The Vagrant Christ” was a regular at street liturgies during Holy Week. It was the Open Door that first opened my eyes and heart to the Liberation Theology understanding of, “the crucifixion of the poor.” As Jon Sobrino wrote of this crucifixion, “Poverty [and I would add, homelessness] is not some sort of natural destiny… It is the effect of historical decisions made by human beings. It is the effect of unjust structures. … It’s contrary to the plan of God the Creator, and contrary to the honor which is due to God.”
I have learned from the Vagrant Christ and theologians like Sobrino that the poor are crucified. I have learned from the Open Door and at Manna House that when I offer hospitality I stand at the foot of the cross.
To stand at the foot of the cross, Barbara Holmes writes, is to respond to God’s call “to stand silently at the places where the national powers are crucifying the innocent and waging war against the poor… willing to embody a contemplative resistance which is simply the expression of love and faith that transcends the ability to see or understand the outcomes” (Joy Unspeakable p.106). She adds that to stand silently is not to stand passively. Contemplative resistance requires that I listen, learn, and then bear witness to the ongoing crucifixion of the poor in our society.
I find it hard to stand at the foot of the cross and practice this contemplative resistance. There are mornings I do not want to go into the backyard and hear the stories of our guests. Just like with the guests this morning, there is little that I can do when they tell me of their time in the hospital, the jail, and the ways death comes on the streets and in poverty. In contemplative resistance I come to sit with these realities.
At the foot of the cross, I listen to their stories and learn again how hard and yet necessary it is to trust in the power of love, and in the presence of God in the people who trust me enough to share what they are suffering. They teach me what Jesus knew on the Cross. Even as he cried out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” God had not abandoned him, just as God had not abandoned him in the silence of 40 days of fasting and prayer in the desert. God was with him in the isolation and the darkness.
At the foot of the cross, when I hear the stories of the Manna House guests, if I practice contemplative resistance, I will also experience the presence of God. I will experience how God remains present and affirms this is not the way things are supposed to be.