I recently joined the board of our local Conference of Churches. This organizations is made up of 24 member churches and operates a shelter, soup kitchen, food pantry and thrift shop. As a welcome gift I received a copy of the book The emptiness of our hands: a lent lived on the street by Phyllis Cole-Dai and James Murray. It is the amazing story of the journey of two people who voluntarily went out onto the streets of Columbus, Ohio during Lent 1999. They lived as the homeless ~ sleeping in shelters, eating in soup kitchens, wandering the urban landscape.
They did something that I know that I could not do, but having shared their story, I have a renewed appreciation for the fullness of my hands. While I believe that Gary and I live relatively simply, we still have much more than we need... more food, more clothes, more 'toys'.
The most striking this part of the book for me was how Phyllis and James became invisible when they went out on the streets. Stripped of their social status and power, they became essentially 'nobody.' The average person who passed them by didn't look them in the eye and pretended they didn't even see them. True, they were dirty, disheveled, maybe even smelly, but they were still human ~ children of God. This makes me reflect on how I react when I see someone that I might consider 'less desirable' for one reason or another.
Phyllis and James went on the street with the goal of being present to everyone they met. Having read this book, I hope I can do the same in my work for the Conference of Churches and, more simply, in my daily life.