She had found a sunny spot on the cement and was sitting, eyes closed, taking in the rays, with the ice and snow of winter surrounding her. I approached; doubting Sarah would remember our conversation of three weeks ago.
People on the street have a lot to deal with and remembering a chat with a street minister is not high on their priority. Planning where they will sleep that night is much more important. Sarah was a long-term homeless woman who was dealing with chronic alcoholism. She felt very hopeless about the possibility of recovery in her life.
When I spoke her name, she opened her eyes. Recognizing me, she smiled and I was struck again by her weathered beauty and gentleness in her greeting. Leaning down I asked how things were going and told her I had gotten what she had asked for. Last time we spoke, she had mentioned that she had no idea what time it was. “What kind of person doesn’t even know the time?” she had asked. People don’t talk about the shame of being down and out but the shame slips in and out of their conversation. She had seemed disgusted that she never knew the real time. I opened my backpack and pulled out the watch I had gotten for her. She expressed surprise and gratitude and after a few minutes I left her there sitting in the sun.
The watch does not bring Sarah into the norm of society. I have no idea if she will be able to keep the watch very long in an environment where so much is stolen or bartered. It does not matter. The longer I do street ministry the more I learn about showing up. The wonderful Rabbi Abraham Heschel believes, “prayer is not an accumulation of spiritual knowledge but a capacity to face the sacred moment.” I often tell people on the street that my business is prayer. I know everyone has their image of what that means but I hope my praying is what Heschel is talking about – a capacity to face the sacred moment. Many spiritual traditions teach that being present is where “God” is. That is my hope and yes, desire – to be where “God” is. Our scattered mind pulls us in all directions and so often we are not greeting the living moment. Sometime the image of machete-ing through the thought/confusion helps, at other times; the dropping of a stone in slow motion through water is a guide. The trick is to remember the ability to be present in the flotsam and jetsam of our own confusion, our own fears and planning.
What if every time we were to greet each other we were aware of the threesome present – you and me and God? What if we lived in the sacred moment? What if we lived in real time? Ah, what a world it would be.