(This was written in reflection after some severe cold in Whatcom County)
There I stood in the lobby of the main shelter building, awaiting a meeting with a staff person, Robbie, overseeing Men’s Ministries. I was chatting with Cathy at the front desk asking where he was, my coat and how the numbers of people at the overflow shelter were not too high, yet…
Then Robbie came downstairs, and mentioned towards me, “It’s hard to see a human in full meltdown mode…” As he made his way back to his office I followed and sat down at his desk. He began sharing stories, sharing with me one person and then the next. How this one person—in full meltdown mode—is caught in this downward spin of anxiety and compulsion and depression, and how it does not seem as if all the resources in the community have been able to find him housing, though we all know time has passed–this will be his second Christmas at the shelter. And Robbie, in his compassion and frustration about the situation, tried to break in to this man’s world by telling him to stop: stop rearranging his belongings, stop listing off all he needs to do, stop this spinning of web of thoughts that have him caught in his mind.
And then there’s our medical respite guests, both on oxygen, just to breathe…and it kind of feels like many of us are needing this oxygen just to breathe here at the shelter recently. Life is fragile. Our situations are fragile. With the beeping of oxygen tanks next door to Robbie’s office, we skip from story to story, in a somewhat hurried fashion, and I begin to wonder if there is a thread I should be picking up on. And then Steve suddenly stops and leans back in his chair, “I think we should pray.”
Yes. “Let’s.” I close my eyes and bow my head and breathe in our own sort of oxygen, infusing life and presence into this shelter-severe cold-chaos. We are both silent for a while. I imagine us both remembering who’s presence we are in, who ultimately sustains us and guests, who authors even the weather…this, this is the Sacred being invited in to our daily offerings of situations, of stories, of sacrifice, of chaos.
I had a professor once that said a sacrament is not holy or sacred just by the actions or the materials used. A sacrament of communion or baptism or marriage or blessing is not made sacred by the doing, it is by the inviting in of the Divine, the inviting in of the Sacred One. We have to remember, it is God’s presence that makes a sacrament Sacred. So, in shelter or social justice work, when we have Sacred Chaos, the chaos itself is not sacred just by location, by being there at a faith-based shelter or faith saturated justice work, the Chaos is made Sacred by the inviting in of the Divine, of the Holy One.
This is our own oxygen.
Thirty minutes later I am at the emergency shelter for staff worship-through-song devotions. We sing Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and a few guests ask for lyrics and start bobbing their heads and tapping their feet along with the 12 staff gathered around. Behind me, a man is sitting in a chair, but even that is tenuous. It seems at any moment he is going to tumble top first out of the chair and onto the floor. Jordan, the emergency shelter manager, has yet to sit down in the circle, though his hand drum is waiting for him. I glance around at him and find him and one other person coming out of the bathroom. The other man has a plunger in hand and is looking triumphant.
As the next song begins, Rend Collective’s Build Your Kingdom Here, a favorite of mine, I stand up to tell Jordan I can hold down the fort for a few minutes while he joins in the worship-through-song, but when I get behind the desk and begin to speak this invitation, we are interrupted by a woman with a blanket moving as if floating in front of us.
Build Your kingdom here
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
I look at Jordan and he says quietly, “She is high and stealing things—petty things—but still causing problems with others, and will not stay out of the emergency shelter, she keeps coming back in…do I call the police?” I ponder that for a moment, “What’s her name?” Jordan nods and answers with all seriousness, “Nannete Fertilityhope”…and -sitting-tumbling-man attempts to stand.
Set Your church on fire
Win this nation back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here
“He needs to go to the hospital. He is sedated by both alcohol and mismanagement on his part of medications.” As Jordan speaks these words, this man is grabbing at things on the desk, the lamp seems to grab his attention, “Yes, that kind of looks like a star wars ship doesn’t it?” Jordan speaks to him. (For the past couple weeks there was a star wars ship that looked oddly like the lamp on the desk, and it did look like he was touching it as if it was the ship…)
Unleash Your kingdom’s power
Reaching the near and far
No force of hell can stop
Your beauty changing hearts
You made us for much more than this
And I want to scream, “Yes! Build Your Kingdom here Lord! These people were made for so much more than this!” And then I chuckle—I think with Jordan—at the absurdity of this whole situation…Robbie enters at that moment with two people looking like donors and comes around the desk and whispers to Jordan and I that there are two people outside smoking marijuana.
Awake the kingdom seed in us
Fill us with the strength and love of Christ
We are Your church
Oh, and we are the hope
Rochelle stands up from worship to receive a donation, Jordan goes outside to talk with the pot-smoking-people, and I try to encourage the tenuous-tumbling-made-for-more-than-this-man to sit back down—slowly—into his chair. And I look around—at this place, at this strange inviting of the sacred into the chaos at the emergency shelter, and consider the words…”we are Your church…we are the hope…” Even as my heart is skeptical, I, at the same time, remember Jesus’ ministry to the crowds and the correlation a past devotional sharer mentioned about the connection with shelter work.
Incarnational ministry. Christ in me. The Sacred in me. Me, a broken, unlikely vessel for the Sacred to be poured out in the midst of this chaos. And I wonder if we could have this background worship music as our anthem here, inviting, constantly, the Sacred to infuse this near-death-chaos with life, with breath. And I wonder about this infusing of the chaos with the Sacred, and about the messiness of it, and the mysteriousness of His ways being so different than ours. It is this Sacred breaking in, this Kingdom Coming, this Life Infusing, that we get to be a part of, that we get to invite more of. This is our oxygen, our sustaining Power, our Life in the midst of near-death-chaos.
(All views expressed in this blog are solely those of myself, Bridget. I do not speak for my family, my workplace, my church, my denomination, or for God. Names and identifying features of people in the stories of this blog have been changed to protect their privacy and confidentiality.)