At the last ‘Open Mic’, I shared about a family I had the privilege of meeting during the course of my work in one of our Food Banks. I shared prematurely because I hadn’t fully unpacked the impact this encounter had had on my heart – in fact it took another two weeks for this ‘why?’ to make sense to me.
As I replayed that key moment in my conversation with the family, I could hear myself, in one of those inspired nudges saying: “I’m in awe at the courage you have in carrying so much” – just then, the lady literally ‘laid down her burden’ and her eyes locked on mine and transformed me. What was it in that look?
Somehow that inspired prompting, facilitated her to show her soul and I could see all her dignity and the hallowedness of the suffering she was carrying. The silent dynamic between us was like she was saying: “My suffering is shared and I am no longer alone” and for myself “I am befriending this suffering but not only yours – it is the ‘universal’ suffering right here in front of me in this room. We were both now in a sacred space. This lady’s suffering ignited my soul’s response to bring consolation and a profound tenderness and utter reverence. As Fr. Greg Boyle says: “Compassion is not a relationship between the wounded and the healer – it’s a covenant between equals”.
I know that many of you have had similar experiences from being in supportive roles as I’ve had in the past but there was something different about this story as part two will show.
Once I managed to really listen to the underbelly of my encounter, I literally had to write it down which happened to coincide with the date I had to submit my hypothesis for the dissertation I have to write next year. Taking a risk, I submitted my ‘journal’/outline regarding this encounter. I was awestruck when my supervisor responded the way she did but also and unexpectedly amazed that she gave me the title for my dissertation: “The Spirituality of Witnessing as a Social Solidarity”. As we discussed the essence of the story and the contemporary writers I was to study, she included in my reading lists Fr. Greg Boyle and Peter McVerry – I was ‘ignited’ and delighted.
Last Friday, coming back from business in town on my way to Darndale Food Bank, I felt prompted to drop into my office in Clonliffe. As I was reversing my car in the car park who did I see in my rear-view mirror, standing on the grounds with his dog as if he was waiting for me? – only Fr. Peter McVerry. In my ten years working in Crosscare, I have never seen Peter McVerry on the grounds.
I jumped out of my car and bounded over to the poor man bursting with enthusiasm. I explained the situation and not only did we exchange numbers but we also engaged in a preliminary chat which was really full of wisdom and a lived ‘knowing’.
Part 3 – Reality Check
Clearly my encounter with this family was a moment of Grace – an epiphany unlocked by tenderness. Now I have come down from my mountain of ‘transfiguration’ to the lowlands of reality with the awareness that this dissertation title: “The Spirituality of Witnessing as a Social Solidarity” is not merely an academic piece of work but a ‘calling’ to me to make it a living transformative, incarnate reality so what I will write in 2017 will be based on profound truth and not theory. How do I actually live this? To which Greg Boyle answers by saying:
You have to listen – ‘Humility’ asks people on the margins or the poor: “What will help you” – ‘Hubris’ says: “Here’s what your problem is and here’s how you can fix yourself and here’s what you need to do and…” The more people can listen to the poor – the greater the chance they will have together, arriving at some kind of effective solutions
I have to say that in general when I wear my professional hat it’s more the hat of ‘Hubris’ than the hat of ‘Humility’. How do I transition from being ‘professional’ to being a ‘befriender’? Again, Greg Boyle says:
It’s not about coming to the rescue but turning that on its head and asking: How do you receive them? How are you being reached by them? How are you being nourished by the poor? It’s not so much a plan or a strategy but a context of community where the methodology is really tenderness.