My Comadre led me to a Safe House in El Paso, TX -- in the largest bi-national community in the world. Since then, I have returned to this place again and again with my compadre, my family, and small groups to provide some modest support and relief for the volunteer staff – mostly a hot meal. I am grateful for being welcomed into Safe House when I had little to offer. My presence might have less than null value if it weren’t for my companion, who is fluido en espanol and who takes people into her heart and life.
From a practical standpoint, let me be clear – “places like these” need prayer and material support. However, the presence of sincere yet removed and well-meaning volunteers is counter to a spiritual mandate of humility.
When we are part of a group/community that shares beloved values, there comes a time when the group activity is collective action. Collective action is the most complex and sophisticated of acts in community. Collective action is only possible when collaboration (mutual discernment; co-creation; prayer; visioning) is a routine spiritual practice (that is redundant). Annunciation House is a place and a way of being that manifested (decades ago) as a result of small group bible study and prayer (that is redundant). My understanding is that a sacred question that bound the people sitting in start-up faith community was, "who is the poorest of the poor......HERE....where we are?"
And so they went out and into the community they were already in. From the beginning and decades later, the lived works of Annunciation House is more than a great story. It is a way of life. It is not a program. It is not a day of action. We can’t just walk in all smiley – or looking sympathetic – and offer our help. The commitment necessary is more than a day, is more than occasional, is more than a large group of many people who decide to tend to a few. What began as arithmetic becomes math. What is thought as theory must transform into actionable theology (or pick the word that has the same import).
With the steady hand, and sometimes pinching grip, of spiritual teachers, I have learned to practice sitting alone for a while in the middle of the field that surrounds me. It. Is. Hard. Scary too. Everything spins and everything I know is too blurry or blocked to access. It feels like I am falling and that the fall will last forever. Have you ever felt this way? If you have been lucky enough to crash and survive, then you know that something reminded you you are sitting, the drop wasn't forever, and finally you could just lay down – awake. For me the spinning thus far keeps stopping. The renewal of faith is a jolt that does not come in a can. Humble is hard to be and sometimes hard to recognize as we live our post-modern days. Imagine you are living without comfort and love around you. Imagine you are still grateful for your life. Do whatever it takes to be able to imagine this. Spend all your time with children if you need help getting your imagination back.
I have inherited an adage from my Life Partner’s family of deeply conscientious friends – Get Down Town. There you will be doing the math correctly – you to many. Bring a friend and it is You Two to More. Bring your friends and family and it’s All Y’all in Beloved Community. Eventually you will learn that you have to be there, live there, claim that whole community as your own, not the object of your charity or generosity.
And if have the impulse to do something now, before you feel ready, ask someone you respect how you might begin. If that feels distant or hard, join me in sitting the middle of a field, alone.