Friday, June 5, 2009

Practice:  Share with someone who is homeless or hungry.  By sharing, I don’t mean simply giving, as in giving away money.  Handing someone pocket change is one thing, but offering them your food is another.

I went on a hitchhiking/backpacking trip in which my friend and I slept in the abandoned places of civilization and ate only what we could forage.  We mainly lived off of wild plants (it was a time of massive cleansing for my body), but we also found ourselves eating gifted food.  A guy working at a coffeeshop gave us some old cookies they were going to throw out.  A woman at a bed and breakfast (we wanted to camp out in their luxurious front yard but were deterred) gave us some tangerines and chocolate chunk shortbread before pointing us to the hills and sending us on our way.  Those we encountered on our journey were endlessly and spontaneously generous and helpful, and we never even asked.

But the greatest generosity we found among our fellow travellers. During this time, we felt instant and automatic camaraderie with the other transients we encountered.  We not only had wonderful conversations (and garnered much-needed advice), but we also came to discover a beautiful and generous network of food sharing.

While we were standing on the side of the highway thumbing a ride outside of Monterey, a young woman who was asking for money on the meridian approached us with a little paper bag.  From it, she gave us a can of tuna and a pack of cookies that someone else had given her.  Later, we met two sun-wizened men on their way to Gilroy and gave them the tuna;  in return, they gave us a pair of granola bars and a banana.  We gave the pack of cookies to a scruffy young man bundled in layers of army surplus.  Two kids we met in the forest gave us two green apples and some grapes.  We gave an apple to a transplant from Maine we encountered on the streets of Berkeley.  And it went on like that, each exchange accompanied by real love and mutual gratitude, and even, sometimes, prolonged conversation.  This instant camaraderie came from a place of mutual poverty.  But despite lack, there was never any hint of hoarding.  We shared with each other, supporting each other, because we were all in the same place at that time.

In short, in our time of greatest vulnerability (I admit that we almost starved to death in Big Sur!), we discovered a loving and supportive network of human kindness.  I’ve been in similar situations since then, and again and again my faith in humanity has been restored.  Being homeless and hungry—even though, for me, it’s by choice and only for a little while—is essentially an openness and nakedness that destroys all the artificial boundaries our society constructs between people.  We came to see that in reality, there are just humans, humans being with humans, sharing our stories and our food, sustaining one another.  This is a great miracle. 

Last night, I was horrified to learn that the people at one of our local soup kitchens call dinner time “feeding,” as if the diners were livestock come to the trough.  I ask that we practice sharing, not feeding (just like I ask Quakers to start thinking in terms of ministry, not social justice).  We can’t really tackle problems by “feeding” them, by throwing things (money, cast-off clothes, toiletries, canned foods, soup kitchens) at them.  Well, that’s not the Christian way, anyway.  Christ asks that we sit down at table with the outcasts of Empire, that we connect with them, that we share, love, minister, bless.  Only then can we discover that we, also, are being shared with, loved, ministered to, blessed.  Miracles are dialogical.  No boundaries, only a beautiful network, a whole community.  After all, aren’t we all outcasts of Empire?  Isn’t humanity really longing for something other than the inhuman and destructive structures we’ve set up for ourselves?  How can we be a plain, peaceful, loving community in a world that is so hungry for ever-spiralling profits and endless, cancerous growth?  The solution, I think, is simple.  Recently, my friend brought back a man she met on the street so that he could make a sandwich for himself in our kitchen.  I wonder how many times people have extended hospitality to him, instead of throwing money at him.

But there’s one other thing.  This past spring, I was traveling in the south and passed through Atlanta, GA.  My friends and I had a bag of mixed lettuces and a half-eaten thing of pretzels with us.  The pretzels we gave to a man we met in a parking lot.  Seeing us do that, a woman approached us.  We offered her the lettuces;  it was obvious that she was starved for freshness, for real live green things.  Looking around at the deep-city grime, I could definitely see why.  She snatched it up.  But after that, we had nothing else to give.  The woman wondered whether we had any clothes, but even then all we had was basically on our backs.  So my friend offered prayer.  She said that we didn’t have anything else, but that we could offer prayer.  They walked away then, and I don’t know what they thought about the prayer thing.  But on our part, we followed through.  We prayed for them that evening.  All three of us have a deeply fierce faith in prayer.  We could give them food and clothes, and those things would of course be most materially helpful in the present moment.  But to us, prayer is really where it’s at;  it’s more holistic, like good nutrition over antibiotics.  In fact, that’s where the sharing occurs, because it demands that we open ourselves up, that we become vulnerable and naked.  It really demonstrates that we all come from a place of mutual need.  Because of this, prayer is the ultimate act of connection.


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