Contemplative communities want to stay aware of the invisible web of divinity as we serve. Here is an example of how that happened unexpectedly.
A wonderful group of volunteers came with a meal from Munholland United Methodist Church to join the rest of us in serving our street friends inside Mt. Zion United Methodist Church. They came from a church in a wealthy part of town to a church surrounded by destroyed roads and great poverty. Some of their new cars were made by Mercedes and Lexus. Some of the volunteers were just beginning to have contact with our street friends for the first time in their lives.
For people who spend the day outside, August in New Orleans means bearing the heat until they smell of the street. The mix of aromas from the hot meals and the hot people was, well, a bit like a teen boys’ school locker room. It wasn’t sweet or pretty.
When the food was ready to be served, and the Salvation Army shelter vouchers were ready to be shared, we all gathered to take a moment to be present, to really “be with” each other. The volunteers were invited to stand in a giant circle with our street friends. We all held hands. We looked at each other. I invited everyone to take a few deep breaths of the same cool air, and to notice that the Love of God was there among us and between us. I called on everyone to be aware that “we are the ones who can help each other by creating a loving space right here and now.”
Then we had a brief prayer. Sometimes I lead that prayer. Sometimes the pastor of Mt. Zion leads the prayer. And sometimes one of our street friends agrees to lead the prayer. Something shifted when Patricia , one of our street friends, led us. She who has the darkest skin tone possible, who never says a word from week to week, spontaneously led us in the Lord’s Prayer. It was the first time in ten years of serving with this ministry that someone had led in a prayer that everyone knows.
She started with, “Our Father.” And then a prayer leveled us. Everyone there followed with the words we learned since childhood, “who art in heaven.” And I felt the transformation as we continued. We were no longer separated according to those who have nothing and those who have everything. Suddenly we were one, a room of people who all have a need for the One Who Loves Us So.
Of course, our specific needs were spread across a wide range of our humanity and situations. Maybe some needed God’s help to receive a crust of “daily bread,” while others were more focused on needing God to forgive “our trespasses.” Some might have needed help in forgiving “those who trespass against us,” while others were seeking to want God’s will to “be done.” But in that moment of transformative leveling we were all the one people of God, voicing our needs in one chorus, every voice coming from a cherished child of God.
When oneness happens among all the diverse people of God, I say “a gate of heaven opened.” It’s a modern-day miracle really. People who might usually avoid street people at all costs were somehow drawn to be in one circle, holding sweaty and dirty hands, and saying a common prayer. And street people who would usually fear the disdain or disgust of rich people were somehow willing to hold perfumed hands, and be in prayer together.
Carol is one of the regular meal volunteers from the rich church who has a delicious smile and an obviously warm heart. She edged up to me later and said, “Some of us are beginning to move way out of our comfort zones to talk with people.” I affirmed that. Even those of us who have received every privilege in life can still experience God’s ongoing conversion of our hearts over time. We learn ever so slowly that everybody has suffering of one form or another, so we are not as different as we seem.
Robin Roberts, television anchor for Good Morning America, titled her recent book Everybody’s Got Something. That really says what we experienced. When a prayer leveled us, the truth of that book title became a living reality. We all became the people who have “got something,” some need drawing us into prayer, some tug pulling us down below our outward appearances and smells, into the place where we are all one with the One.
Perhaps you will pause right now and reflect on a time when a need, a prayer, or some experience leveled you. Remember so a gate of heaven can open once again.