Monday, February 23, 2009

Resting in the Lord

I want to share an excerpt from the book 'Tell Them Who I Am : The Lives of Homeless Women" by Elliot Liebow. The author spent many years living and serving in the homeless community in and around Washington DC.
The daily routine of the poor and homeless in our area is no different.

For some of the women, day-by-day hardships began with the problem of getting enough sleep. A few women complained they could never get any sleep in a shelter. Grace was one of them. "There's no getting sleep in a shelter," she said. "Only rest."

There was indeed much night noise and movement. There was snoring, coughing, wheezing, retching, farting, cries from bad dreams, occasional weeping or seizures, talking aloud to oneself or to someone else who may or may not have been present, and always movement to and from the bathroom. Grace was complaining about noise, and she found a partial remedy in ear plugs. But ear plugs could not help those women like Kathleen who were kept awake not by noise but by questions: Is this it for me? How did I end up here? How will I get out? But eventually, as the night wore on, there was a lot of snoring, and that meant that, Grace and Kathleen notwithstanding, there was a lot of sleeping, too.

Having to get up at 5:30 a.m. and be out of the shelter by 7:00 was a major hardship of shelter life. It was not simply the fact of having to get up and out, but rather that the women had to do this every day of the week, every day of the year (Thanksgiving and Christmas Day excepted), no matter what the weather or how they felt. On any given morning, as the women drifted onto the street, one might see two or three ailing women - this one with a fever or cough or headache, that one with a limp or stomach ache or other ailment - pick up their bags and walk silently into the weather.

The women especially missed Saturday and Sunday mornings, which looked just like Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. The occasional opportunity to stay in bed an extra hour or two was desperately missed. Not being able to sleep in, ever, especially on a weekend, was seen by many as a major deprivation that unfairly set them apart from the rest of the world. At 7:15, on a Sunday morning in the park, several women were looking for benches that offered some protection from the wind. The streets were empty of cars and people and the rest of the world seemed to be asleep. The women talked about how nice it would be to sleep in just one morning, just for the h*ll of it, or because you don't feel well, and how nice it would be to have a place - not even your own place, just a place - where you could go and lie down for awhile without having anyone else around telling you to do this or do that.


Along with perennial fatigue, boredom was one of the great trials of homelessness. Killing time was not a major problem for everyone but it was high on most women's lists of hardships. Betty could have been speaking for most of them when she talked about the problem. On a social visit to the state psychiatric hospital where, four years earlier, she had been an inpatient in an alcoholic program, Betty sought out a nurse named Lou. They embraced and Lou asked Betty what she was doing these days. Betty said she was living in a shelter. Lou said that was a shame and asked Betty how she spent her time.

"I walk the streets," said Betty. "Twelve hours and 15 minutes a day, every day, I walk the streets. Is that what I got sober for? To walk the streets?" Betty went on to say that she shits on a lot of park benches looking for someone to talk to. Many times there is no one, so she talks to the birds. She and the birds have done a lot of talking in her day, she said.

Do we complain about having too too many chores to do around the house or thank our Lord for the home which provides those chores?
Do we often wish for more "free" time or instead thank our Lord for our jobs, laundry, children, family, church ministries, etc.. which enrich so much of our time ?

Did you get to sleep in this weekend?

How did you sleep last night? Did you wake with praise and thanksgiving on your lips to our Almighty God or with complaints of a too-short sleep?
I am awakened often by a snoring spouse. In this fuzzy awakening, I pray for others who may be suffering much worse. Yet, my first reaction many times is aggrivation as I nudge him so he'll turn over - thus interrupting his sleep - instead of denying myself comfort and "offering up" the small suffering.

In the first chapter of Colossians, Paul writes, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the divine office which was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints." Colossians 1:24-26.

In 1 Corinthians 12, St. Paul said we all have roles to play. One is that we suffer with Jesus. In Acts, Saul goes to Tarsus and Jesus asks we he persecutes him. Saul, of course, did not persecute Jesus, instead, he persecuted the Body of Christ, the Church.

We know that there is nothing lacking in Christ's suffering, so we understand that Paul meant something else - that God has chosen to make our sufferings to be associated with Christ.
Saint Paul, like the mystical saints, was being mystical. Essentially, he said that if the way he was handling his own suffering pleases God, then he hopes he will bless others as a result.

Next time you're awakened by a snoring spouse - how about taking time to thank God for your spouse and the warm bed which you share and then praying to God for those who may be awake that very moment in a crowded, noisy shelter or on the street shivering under a threadbare blankets and cardboard.

May the peace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ reign in your heart, your mind and on your lips today and always. Amen!