Sunday, October 24, 2010

Day Two: Longing for Safe, Dry Sanctuary

In many ways, rain is a great equalizer. People who are outside in the rain tend to all look the same, like over bundled drippy people slogging to wherever they are headed. Yet, for those who have nowhere to head (like me today) the ability to find a small warm space to give the water a chance to roll of your back is more important than ever.

Interestingly, this is a great motivator for many to head to church. Though rainy days is a time when many housed parishioners may decide to skip church because they don't want to leave warm beds to head out in the rain. It is such a blessing to those with no dry sanctuary can find that in churches.

Right now, my sanctuary is the public library. I remember when I was little that my mother would drop me off at the library while she worked. I loved the books and that I could play Oregon Trail on the computers for one hour a day. It was only years later that I realized that the other kids I had spent time with and most of the others in the Sioux Falls, SD library were homeless folk.

Since I was just in Washington DC this past week, I've been thinking about the way that Abraham Lincoln was used as the symbol of the American dream. His portrait stands out in the middle of the Library of Congress dome as a reminder that he was a self made man who gained his education through public libraries rather than through a college or university.

While I'm grateful that public libraries offer that same opportunity for people to have equal access to education, I also know that libraries across the country have become the mainstays for homeless folk - particularly in areas where other valuable services are being cut. I've read several articles this year about how librarians have had to take on roles of being like a social worker because of this issue.

Access to education is certainly one way to help those living in poverty to improve their quality of life. But, when they don't have access to prescription glasses or enough sleep to focus on reading, it's not true access.

Here at the San Francisco Public library they have a rule that if you fall asleep you have to leave. The rule makes me think back to my night sleeping on the cold concrete tucked in the doorway of a church with a garbage bag wrapped around the bottom of my sleeping bag to prevent it from getting too wet. While I was warm enough, my sleep was interrupted by the fact that I had to constantly wake up throughout the night as half my body would go numb and I needed to flip over. As it got closer to dawn, the time between numbness grew shorter and shorter and so did sleep.

Since this is only the second day of my street retreat I'm not so exhausted yet that I'm tempted to fall asleep in the library. But I wonder on a cold, rainy day like today where I could go if I needed to rest.

Most congregations are not cool with a cold stranger coming to sleep in the pews. And since I'm directing my thoughts towards what it feels like to be a part of the working poor, I can really see how having spaces to rest and refresh before work would be vital to survival. If I was truly homeless I would do whatever it took to keep my job, since that would be my quickest way to eventually be able to acquire shelter.

Since, yesterday morning I was in New York I also wonder about that promise on the Statue of Liberty telling the tired huddled masses that they could come and be free. I also wish that promise would have included keeping them safe, warm and feed.

Somehow all these jumbled thoughts bring me back to the image of the dry bones. The promise that God can breathe life into weary bones and revive them is something I ardently pray for today. May the God who promises justice provide hope and strength to the wet ones in San Francisco.

I hope you and your family are dry and safe this beautiful Saturday.

I leave you with this image of Kay (a retired Unitarian Universalist pastor) that I'm on retreat with. Today at Glide, we ate breakfast together. And her sense of humor made me smile. I was glad that she could bring that Franciscan sense of the fool to our meal.

Location:Grove St,San Francisco,United States

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