Two women from the street had made friends, each of a different race, (which clearly did not matter to them at all). They arrived late Tuesday afternoon for their first visit with us in the Good Samaritan/Open Table ministry, so there was only one free ticket left for a shelter voucher into the Salvation Army. One woman would get a bed for the night, shower, and two meals, and the other would be on the street for the night. Both said to give the voucher to the other. Did you get that? Each woman immediately offered the gift to the other, which meant she would be spending the night on the rough streets of New Orleans.
Perhaps we think we are doing something important when those of us who have plenty give some little gift to charity. And yes this does matter. But I have never given away my very safety, my shelter for the night. I have never even given away two meals when it would mean I would have none. I give from my excess. I don’t really have a clue about radical generosity.
But both of these new women seemed to have radical generosity imbedded in them. They didn’t wrestle with the decision. They didn’t assess their bank accounts to see if there was enough to spare a little extra. They didn’t look into a billfold filled with one hundred dollars and give away one dollar, like most of us who think we know generosity. They spoke without hesitation, “Give it to her.” In essence they were saying, “Give everything to her.”
What is the source of such radical generosity? The woman with the dark skin and the woman with the white skin both showed they are deeply sourced in the divine. The author of the letters of John writes: “How can you say you love God and not love your neighbor?” In the extravagant love of neighbor each woman showed, there is clear proof of who else they love. Their action speaks for them. We don’t have to examine their beliefs for doctrinal purity. We don’t have to put them up before a religious tribunal to make sure they can pass any formula of correct orthodoxy (right belief). They have shown who they love by their orthopraxy (right action).
Jesus said the two great commandments, which sum up all the law, are these: “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” I notice that there is not one mention of belief in his formula, no call that focuses on himself. It’s all about love.
Brother David Steindl-Rast says that “I believe” means “I give my heart to this.” Two women on the dirty, hot, broken, and dangerous streets of New Orleans showed their belief in action: “I give my heart to her. I give away everything that I need for her sake.” If a contemplative is simply one who practices the presence of God, I would say I met two real contemplatives last Tuesday. If only I had the presence of mind to bow at their feet, in reverence, to worship the God they obviously served, and to ask them to be my teacher.
For more stories like this see Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic Culture, now available as a Kindle book.