This is the third in a series of reflections on celebrating and living in this season of incarnation. Last week, I spent the night as a host at Divine Intervention, an overnight “warming room” at Tippecanoe Presbyterian Church. This is part 2 of the reflection I wrote the following morning.
The Word became flesh and made his home among us. – John 1:14 (CEB)
This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. – John 15:12 (CEB)
It was a quiet winter evening. After turning out the lights upstairs, I came down and found everyone asleep – except for one woman who had come in late from her job. She sat in the dark while others were sleeping to read her Bible and finish her dinner. I invited her to sit over by me and the light, but she soon went to sleep.
I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. – Psalm 121:1-4 (NRSV)
This room of people sleeping really impacted me. Although my kids and I often give thanks for a safe and warm place to sleep every night when we pray at night, I generally take it for granted. Sitting in the sleeping room – reading, writing, crocheting, praying – and listening to the breaths of deep sleep, snoring, and sleep-talking reminded me of watching my kids while they slept. There is something sacred about keeping watch while your children sleep. This is sacred space.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. – Luke 2:8 (NRSV)
I certainly didn’t bring them to this safe place – or even provide it. My role was to keep watch. And my watch wasn’t to supervise or enforce, but rather to hold vigil. Divine Intervention isn’t a “shelter,” but a warming room and prayer vigil so everyone can’t sleep. My role was to stay awake to so other could sleep.
I have the luxury of being able to take a nap today. I had the early shift, which meant I was done at 3:00 am. I thought about going home but decided to sleep here so I could be present for breakfast. I also felt the need to be sleeping here with those I had kept watch over. And to sleep in this sacred space while someone watched over me.
Many were already gone when I woke up at 7:00 am. One man was hoping to catch a bus to a church downtown that serves a hot breakfast. A woman, the one who had been reading her Bible the night before, was wondering how to get to the community center. There used to be a van that would take people to the community center for showers. Nearby is three miles. The funding for the van was cut this year.
W, whom I had met the night before, was getting a cup of coffee. The pot was almost empty, so I offered to tip it so that he could get a full cup. He then did the same for me. I sat down with S while I drank a cup of coffee. We talked a little bit about the movie we had watched the night before. I asked him what his day looked like. He was going to walk northwest to a place that served lunch and where he knew some people. Then he would spend time at a library – he hadn’t decided which one yet. Then he would make his way back to the area and to Divine Intervention for the night. I asked S what he did during the extreme cold in November (before most shelters opened). Someone leaving town had given him a sleeping bag, but otherwise he stays warm with blankets. He said that he spent most of his life in Wisconsin and a lot of time outside in the cold – he knows how to deal with it.
8:00 am came and everyone headed out for their day. And I think this is what got me. As I headed for home in my warm and reliable car, I saw several of the people waiting for the bus, walking down the street, standing outside a coffee shop. Some were going to work but others just needed to find a place (or places) to be until they could come back in the evening.
It was only one night and I only know a few names but I still recognized them when I saw them. They were now people I knew. I waved to them and smiled. I wouldn’t have noticed them before. I wouldn’t have paid attention at the bus stops. But now they were no longer nameless and faceless. Yesterday morning, I would have just listened to my iPod and been in my own little world. But this morning, at least, my world was a little bit different. Will it stay that way and what does that mean?
What we notice is what we care about. As you drive around, notice who is standing at bus stops, in the shelter of a doorway, sitting quietly in your library. Say a prayer for their day and their life.