Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Color Where There Is No Place to Put It

A couple of nights ago I stayed over at church as one of the hosts for an IHN week. If your community has an Interfaith Hospitality Network, then you know it's a program designed to offer a tiny bit of a homelike atmosphere to homeless families. Shelters are usually segregated by gender, which tends to split up spouses and divide parents from children. Through IHN, families stay overnight, in their own rooms as much as possible, in participating churches and synagogues for a week at a time. They spend their days at the IHN center, from which children are delivered to school and where parents find phone banks and other resources for housing and job searches.

Most religious communities host IHN families about four separate weeks each year. It's a high people-intensive committment: volunteers are needed to set up and take down, welcome and say good-bye, provide breakfasts and dinners, act as hosts during the early evening hours - mostly to supervise the younger children so the parents can have some privacy, and stay overnight. I figured I could about manage an overnight, with the minimal interaction it would require with either the families or my co-overnighter.

I didn't miss the irony that I was spending the evening with four families who have no homes at present at the same time that I was writing about extravagant home decorating ideas. An odd thing has happened recently in that several possibilities for serving the homeless have suddenly materialized in my life. A friend and former colleague is taking me with her next week to a huge men's shelter where she does poetry workshops. A man is my spiritual direction program is planning his internship around offering spiritual companionship to the homeless. This Saturday I'll be spending some time at the church where I'll be doing my internship this year, on a day when lunch is provided to the homeless. And if I get my act in gear and send an email today, there may be an opportunity for me involving spiritual direction and the homeless in the city in which I attend seminary.

In the very dark days of last winter, my own former spiritual director, working in another city these days, sent me without commentary a short article about Jean Vanier and L'Arche, the communities Vanier founded in which those who are developmentally disabled and those who are not share homes together. Why did you send me this? I asked. I don't know, he answered. I thought about writing something, but I decided to let it take its own course. I can't say that I felt suddenly inspired to anything beyond my own survival, but it did occur to me then in a vague kind of way that perhaps he was trying to tell me that my own life having crashed and burned did not mean that I was forever lost and precluded from helping others.

It's probably premature even to speculate about this turn of events, since all that has happened is that a few seeds have been scattered into my life. But it does make me wonder whether I am moving in a completely unexpected direction. I have a roof over my head and a loving family living in it with me, and yet in some ways as a consequence of the past year I feel completely adrift and homeless. New qualifications, perhaps.


Law+Gospel said...

There is a lot to think about here for sure. In my internship parish we host breakfast and devotions on Sun mornings free to anyone who comes, and you have seen my post about the unexpected joys of VBS. This winter we will be a part of the emergency shelter program which rotates through the city ministerium. I keep wondering about the difference between "you come to us" and "we come to you" and crossing boundaries. Like you not sure what all of the seeds mean. For me I am trying to put my inner city chaplain crisis ministry piece with my parish ministry piece. I can't wait to see where our journeys go.

Daisy said...

Interesting, GG...


Diane Nilan said...

May I humbly suggest that you spend some virtual time with homeless children and youth via my short documentary, "My Own Four Walls," which will give you invaluable insights and inspiration in your ministry with homeless families.

It's also a great tool for use in faith communities' various adult and children education classes/events.

Hearing first-hand from the kids...powerful and unforgettable.

More info on www.hearus.us.

Best to you on your spiritual journey!

Patti said...

I met a homeless 20something yesterday. I wanted to offer her our spare room, but bit my tongue for some reason. Blessings on your possible new direction.

Anonymous said...

I went to the L'Arche site and for some reason clicked on the Souvenir Poster.

Here's a link to the beautiful picture in some of your colors


And the Jean Vanier quote is --

God is not to be found in the ideal
But hidden in the poverty of the present moment

Thank you for your writing and witness.
Gracie, a lurker

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I have a friend who is very involved in L'Arche. He loves it.

Seeds are a good thing. It will be interesting to see how they germinate. Sometimes they bloom in the most unexpected ways.