In this week’s Gospel reading (John 10:1-10), we encounter Jesus, the good shepherd. And yet in this passage he does not refer to himself explicitly as the good shepherd. Instead he tells his followers, I am the gate. I am the gate for the sheep.
In my last post, I made peace with the wall that separates St. Mary’s from the rest of the world. This week I find myself thinking about our gate. As we continue operating our food pantry, we do so without opening our campus as we did in more carefree days. Instead, people distance themselves safely from one another as they wait along our sidewalk in a quick-moving line that brings them ultimately to the wrought iron gate that stands in front of our sanctuary steps.
I pray for all who are facing food insecurity, but especially this day for those who never in a million years thought they’d find themselves in a food line. It is a foreign experience for them, jarring, humbling, maybe even embarrassing. This kind of suffering may be new to them. It is also equalizing. We all are just “slobs on the bus, trying to find our way home.” Being forced to let go of the self-image we may have cherished, having the scaffolding of a life carefully constructed, suddenly damaged or ripped away — this is not something for which most of us would ever hope. But still, when it happens, when we find ourselves in an untenable position, we can find hope there. We can find something so sure and true, something that maybe we never knew we had, something we secretly feared would not be there to carry us.
In his beautiful Sabbath poem, Wendell Berry asks,
Why must the gate be narrow?
Because you cannot pass beyond it burdened.
To come in among these trees you must leave behind
the six days’ world, all of it, all of its plans and hopes.
You must come without weapon or tool, alone,
expecting nothing, remembering nothing,
into the ease of sight, the brotherhood of eye and leaf.
At times I have used this poem as part of a graveside liturgy but find that it works for any kind of loss. It speaks so beautifully of the blessing of letting go, of the deep discovery that is possible only when we surrender everything we know and everything we are. Even then, we can’t know what the next step might look like. But if we can manage to let go – if we can at least loosen our grip — the gatekeeper will open the gate. And we will hear his voice. We will find our way.
If you are able to, please support food ministries in your community. If you would like to support St. Mary’s, you may do so here: Giving to St. Mary’s.