On Friday night into Saturday morning a group of about 25 of us slept outside on the lawns of churches around City Hall Park. The group consisted of currently homeless, formerly homeless, and probably never homeless people. The goal of what we called “Camping for a Cause” was to raise awareness of homelessness in our community and to raise money for the Good Samaritan Haven. Let me be clear, right up front, that for those of us who have not been homeless, the goal WAS NOT to sleep outside so that we could say, “WE KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE HOMELESS. We do not. I do not.” We did learn about the challenge of being outside in not-so-cold winter weather. We, also, learned about the value of a hearty meal before and after sleeping outside (Thank you, Hedding’s Friday meal and Barre Congregational’s Saturday breakfast!) We learned about traffic patterns downtown in Barre ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT. Cyndi Simpson, colleague and minister at the Barre UU church learned what it’s like to have her tent surrounded LOUD SNORING MEN! We got the smallest of windows, during the advent season, into finding no room in the inn and having to…well…make do. We learned about strategies for staying warm when it’s snowing, below freezing. We learned the value of lighting candles, singing songs, praying prayers for a world that must do an EVEN BETTER job of caring folks so close to the edge that a little bump could send them over it!
But, knowing that you’re going to be somewhere warm, that you can return to a safe routine, that you will, in a matter of hours, be with people who are settled and hospitable made many of our experiences quite different from people that are sleeping out night in and night out.
At about 10 o’clock last night, I had made my rounds to visit with people sleeping on the Baptist, Episcopalian, and Methodist snowy lawns before making my way to the granite doorway of the Congregational Church where I was going to lay my head to sleep (on two sleeping pads in inside of two sleeping bags, in case you’re wondering). Just about that time, a police car rolled up and out stepped a frequent guest at our community meals, a gentleman who, for a variety of reasons, has been sleeping outside, bopping from this place to that, for about the last three months. Another sleeping bag and pad appeared like manna in the dessert and I now had an entryway sleeping buddy who, more rapidly than I, fell asleep in the familiar outdoors.
I have profound respect for people who sleep outdoors, even and especially in the winter. For most, sleeping outside is not a choice. And, in the conversations that followed the next morning over breakfast, I realized that each person carries not only their own story but profound insights into what it means to live in this world!
If Mary and Jesus, the way we learn about them in Luke, are onto something (which I think they are), then the kingdom of God is made up of and good news for people on the margins. And, if Mary and Jesus are onto something (and I think they are), then the work of the people of God is to join in the work about which Mary sings…the work of leveling the playing field so that there is less distinction between rich and poor, weak and strong, hungry and full. The more we work at erasing that boundary line, the more the song of OUR life reflects Mary’s song…
The more faithfully we are followers of Jesus,
The closer we are to living in the kingdom of God…
And, the more prepared we are for Christmas and Christ’s coming!
Thanks be to God for God’s spirit, for those of us who are on the margins, for the early women like Elizabeth and Mary and for countless women since who have ushered in the very kingdom of God. ~ Pastor Carl