For a moment today, I was upset with myself for overlooking the Feast Day of St. Clare of Assisi (yesterday, August 11). For Pete’s sake, this blog is named for Clare, about whom I became curious and to whom I found myself drawn, while serving at a parish named for St. Francis. Clare was forever changed when she heard Francis preach not long after his conversion experience and left behind her aristocratic station in life to follow his example, serving Christ by serving the poor and the sick. She founded an order — the Poor Clares — and eventually challenged Francis and his brothers to maintain a life of simplicity when they appeared to stray from that call.
Clare and Francis were given the imagination and power to embody the Good News. The life and teachings of Christ revealed in the Gospel narratives call us to have special consideration for the poor, the alien, the sick, and the forgotten. I am sorry I forgot Clare yesterday but I am grateful for her example.
Yesterday our “church without walls” community gathered for a holy and tender time. Again, folks began to collect under the shade of the sycamore, a full 45 minutes before the service. For the most part, the early arrivers sat in silence for a spell. Off to the side, one pair carried on a quiet conversation. It was as if the Holy Spirit placed a sign at the edge of our space: please observe quiet as we gather and prepare for worship.
That shifted when a man wheeled up on his bike. He was smiling brightly. “I went to my first AA meeting this morning,” he reported. “That’s terrific. Congratulations!” When I asked what inspired this, he told me: “I woke up sober this morning. Then I remembered where there used to be a meeting place not far from here. So I went to see if they were still there.”
Not much time passed when another man approached me – someone with whom I visited at a shelter some months ago. He was dying of alcoholism, but he didn’t think he needed treatment or a recovery program. “What I need is a job,” he’d told me. He was very smart, perhaps too smart for his own good. This morning there was unmistakable pain and deep sadness in his eyes, “that awful ache and aloneness” that every alcoholic knows. “I just got out of detox,” he told me. “I’ve been walking around, not knowing what to do. I looked up and saw you here and couldn’t believe it.” After worship we wrote out a brief plan for the next few days so that he can get help, if only he will. “You need to latch onto men who have been where you are. If you will do that, you will have an amazing life.” He looked at me, seeming to want to believe. “I feel like I’m back at square one,” he told me. “That’s good,” I said. “You’re ahead in the game. After all, you could be dead.”
After the service, people gathered on the grass, in groups of twos and threes and fours, as we enjoyed a picnic. Lots of quiet encouragement happened. Even laughter and good-natured joking. After lunch, as we began gathering up our trash, a golden butterfly lighted on the suitcase that carries communion supplies and doubles as a place to tie up a trash bag. It caused me to think about how what looks like hopelessness or worthlessness can be transformed into new life.
Once when I was in deep pain, feeling the weight of shame and failure, my father told me: “Jesus comes around many times an hour, driving the garbage truck. You just take everything you are tired off or troubled about and put it in the truck.” That sounds downright hokey, something you’d roll your eyes and snort at. But at that moment, it worked for me. When we get in enough pain, we become willing to hear. And when we become willing, we have a chance. It may seem late in the game, but it’s never too late.