Homeless: In the Shelter of our Hearts

The following post is from our Newsletter Archives. It first appeared in our Winter 1994 Newsletter.*

"da homeless mother and child" by the artofgriffin.

“da homeless mother and child” by the artofgriffin.

by S. Mary Margaret McKenzie, VHM

Homelessness happens: tenants have to move because a landlord can’t meet the mortgage payment; a single parent needs more space for growing children; a family of nine cannot stay indefinitely with already crowded relatives, but what the law requires for housing seven children is not affordable; a person in recovery from chemical abuse slips, loses his job and therefore, his apartment; a young woman volunteering her time and talent for the enrichment of children no longer has a place when the outreach is cut back; a young mother involved in some “activity” has to move before she is evicted or reported; another mother away from her abusive husband with two small children knows the quickest eviction of all from a catastrophic fire. Theres are our neighbors, our friends, and their options are few.

“..until we could enter into our own suffering, we would not be able to support others in theirs.” 

The man in recovery sleeps on a shelter floor for the first time. The large family is dreading the shelter, but if they go, they will get emergency help from subsidizing housing which has a two year waiting list. Without newspaper, phone or car the long search for a “place to stay” begins. We have never heard the homeless talk about a place to “live.

It did not occur to me as a child, even though I grew up during the Depression, that homelessness could happen. Children in North Minneapolis know that it does. The young boy whose name means, “heart of the valley” came home from school one day to find that he was moving that afternoon. His mother told him to come with his little sister to say “goodbye” to us. They appeared at the door during Evening Prayer in too much shock and pain to talk, just looking at us out of a numbness that was holding on to everything. They left with many embraces and a care package. Each time they turned to wave, another one of us began to cry.

“Prayer does bond us in our mutual suffering.” 

Archbishop Roach warned us that it would be “hard, very difficult, terrible, awful” to stand with such pain and be helpless. We were not expecting it to come in the homelessness that seems to have plagued the neighborhood this winter. We have often recalled the counsel of Bishop Carlson that until we could enter into our own suffering, we would not be able to support others in theirs.

“Windsock time” with the children has prepared us for “phone time” with some who use our phone to make real estate appointments. While they wait for calls to be returned, we pray with them or they join us for one of Hours of the Office. One woman brought her sister-in-law along just for the prayer. Prayer does bond us in our mutual suffering, and once prayer brought a friend willing to make his properties affordable to to any reliable tenants we could recommend. Also, there is that amazing grace that flows in and through and around us when the homeless stand by us, too, in our helplessness in helping them and we learn that the “heart of the valley” is not the terrain of hopelessness.

 

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Original article: Homelessness by SMM Winter Newsletter 1994

 

Advent: God the Father, Pacing the Waiting Room Floor

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

“I am praying to God, the Father, this Advent. I know he’s not on this list of saints we are invoking, but he’s central to our prayers. Who is God, the Father? He’s a new dad, pacing the waiting room floor, waiting for Jesus to be born. And he’s pacing the the floor for all of us in our ongoing birth-processes and new life journeys.”

S. Mary Margaret’s words were deeply moving to me as she spoke them to our circle of Vis Companions and Sisters convened last Saturday for our annual Advent Retreat.

Gathered around an alter of candles at the Girard House in north Minneapolis, contemplating the blessed saints and wise figures of this Advent season and offering prayers, we lit candles one at a time invoking the holy women and men’s names and the gifts they offered to our Advent contemplations.  I heard Dorothy Day‘s name spoken, St. Francis Xavier, St. Nicolas, Etty Hilesum, John of the Cross. And then: God, the Father. The image S. Mary Margaret offered of Our Father as an anxious, expectant father, concerned with Mary and his first born‘s well-being fired my own imagination.  It has stayed with me ever since.

***

A month ago, I turned 45 years old. In the weeks leading up to my birthday, I spent time inhabiting stories of my early life in Nebraska, going so far as to invite my parents to tell me again of the circumstances surrounding my arrival as their first born child.

My mom was enlivened by the assignment, recalling amusing, minute details of the day leading up to my birth. While baking a chocolate cake and gathering ingredients for brown sugar frosting, her water broke — though she wasn’t quite certain what was taking place in her body. She called her doctor, who reportedly said, “Well, call me when you are sure what’s going on.” At the age of 21, my first-time pregnant mother then dialed the neighbor, a nurse, and sought her counsel. In the end, she and my dad took off for Bryan Memorial hospital in Lincoln,  and 8 hours later, I emerged.

My father’s recall process came in spurts and fits, with his self-described exasperated efforts at aiding my mother in the breathing process during her labor, and his subsequent “failure” at keeping her calm. Apparently, my dad had my mother breathing so erratically that she hyperventilated, couldn’t relax, and so he was sent from the labor and delivery room by an attending hospital nurse.

The tale comes vividly today into my mind’s eye, as I imagine Mary and Joseph on the night of Christ’s birth. What did either of them know in the way of child birth? Was lamaze training part of the birthing preparation 2000 years ago? In my meditations, I see these holy humans amidst the air, earth, straw, elements; they are attentive, anxious, intent.

And then creeps back in God, the Father: pacing. He is no different that my human father: waiting, hopeful, trusting, walking to and fro in his father’s room.

Can you see this with me? Imagine Abba, Father, Daddy, for these moments, reduced to the uncertain expectation we all experience in the intense births of our life? How does this imagined scene fire your own identification with the incarnation tale? Can you fathom your own holy wonderings and human divinity as God paces alongside you, or breathes deeply and awaits news of your arrival?

Happy Advent Contemplations!