Friday, February 11, 2011

To The Least of These, part 2

Yesterday I wrote about a link that I've been thinking about for some time between the homeless people on our streets who beg for their livelihood and the monks and holy people in every religious traditions who have chosen poverty and begging as a way of life.  I said that I'd been reading about the life of St. Francis and found that even these holy beggars were often ridiculed and reviled.  The question I left hanging at the end was, why?

I suggested in an even earlier piece that one way of looking at the poor and homeless is that they have a job -- an incredibly difficult job.  They remind society that life isn't fair.  That, "there but for the Grace of God go I."  Or you.  That, in the words of the folksinger Greg Brown, "No matter how we plan and rehearse, we're at pink slip's mercy in a paper universe."  Or, as an old friend used to say, "that's why they call it life and not picnic."

Most of us walk around most of the time doing all that we can -- both consciously and unconsciously -- to ensure (or, at least, to convince ourselves) that things will be okay .  We want to believe that, like a fairy tale, there will be a happy ending and that, like a sitcom, even the most difficult situations will work themselves out in the end.  We want security, and we're willing to settle for the appearance of security.

But beggars threaten this.  Those who choose their life of poverty and want are a threat because they call into question my sense that I "need" to be so secure -- and, of course, can cause me to wonder about all the things that I give up to gain my semblance of security.  Those who have their poverty "thrust upon them," as it were, are threatening, too, because they show me that it may not actually be up to me -- one catastrophic illness, one layoff, one bad break and I could watch my carefully constructed house of cards come crashing down around me.

Now . . . the mystics and spiritual teachers who choose, as Francis called it, "Lady Poverty," do so because they believe that the rest of us need to see these facts -- that life isn't fair and that our so-called security isn't as secure as we work so hard to convince ourselves that it is.  They also want us to see that, if that's indeed true, perhaps we don't need to work so hard at building a house of cards but, rather, could put our energy into creating Beloved Community instead . . . something that is real, and enduring. 

Yet some of us are so afraid.  We hang on so tightly to the things we're afraid to lose and, so, must attack those who threaten us.  And so we mock (and worse) those who need us the most.  People like my friends Shaggy, Mike, Jim, and Brother John.  People like St. Francis, and St. Clare, and Brother Juniper.  But it might be worth remembering that in the Christian tradition, God identified himself with the poor and the homeless -- Jesus described himself as having "no place to lay his head," and taught that while all women and men should be seen as our kin, it is by our behavior to "the least of these" that we will be most truly judged.  (Matthew 25: 35-40)

In Gassho,

RevWik Print this post

No comments: