Halfway House to Nowhere
My past month was filled with a great spiritual struggle. Thank God for the cell phone that has connected me to my little Lectio group, interviews, and the Catholic Worker Zoom round table discussions. Living with others here is also a special time. Sometimes there is a moment when I catch sight of profound sadness on the faces of some of the men here. They need family and community. Here is a quote from Dorothy Day’s book “Loaves And Fishes”: “It is a strange and terrifying business, this all-encroaching state, when it interferes to such a degree in the personal practice of the works of mercy…How terrible a thing it is when the state takes over the poor! …How to escape from the letter of the law that killeth!… There is no easy living for a Christian in this world.”
Hampshire House is a hybrid of state and corporate interests. The use of force, and the so-called “necessity of the state” were big questions for Dorothy’s youthful followers in the 1960s. The concern is the same today, evermore urgent in the face of climate collapse and computerized warfare. Life here is full of petty restrictions, isolation, suppression of emotions, and general depression. Is this how we take care of the most vulnerable among us? One young man attended the elementary school where I worked as an occupational therapist 15 years ago. He is here now and we have failed him at the most basic level. Another man was sent to fight in Afghanistan, he carries a Bible with him like a lifeline. My heart bleeds for everyone here, including staff. It is a Catch-22 that we have created for ourselves.
My daily walks take me to Victory Park where the latest monument reads “9/11 to the present-current conflicts ” In other words we are in this war state forever. The park reeks of death and hypocrisy, people die there of drug overdoses, alone. As a young woman, Dorothy had someone die in her arms from heroin, everyone else had fled. In broad daylight here I saw a young man slumped over in a drug induced coma; people simply walked past him. There have been five overdose deaths in this small city in the past month. On the way back after Mass one Sunday we saw a young woman on the street corner, surrounded by piles of paper and debris that she kept frenetically rearranging. Then she bowed down to it as at an altar, the bare, filthy soles of her feet staring us passersby in the face. A plea, a cry, begging for us to recognize her humanity, to help, to love her.
Meanwhile in the most recent readings Jesus feeds his hungry disciples from the fields of grain, he cures the sick and lame, he points out the rituals and laws that oppress the people, rather than caring for them. The response that he provokes from the powerful is a death threat. Today, in Matthew 12:14-21 “The Pharisees went out and took counsel against Jesus to put him to death.” Dorothy remarks “the authorities want us to live according to certain standards, or not at all.” When we smear the blood of the innocent on the door and lintels of the house of death, we desire that the innocent be passed over, to be left unharmed. And the sacrifice is great, at a personal cost we protest any letter of the law designed to exploit the people through illegitimate power. We cut a padlock to protest the threat of using unfathomably powerful nuclear weapons on whole cities. Our dear friend and comrade Bruce Gagnon lives in Bath, Maine where the shipyard is gearing up to spend more money on the nuclear submarine fleet. He recently published an article by Koohan Paik-Mander titled “Countering The ‘China Threat’ At What Price?” The numbers are staggering, what we intend to spend in order to remain the globe’s sole military super power. The Pentagon annual budget of $715 billion will be used to prepare for 21st-century warfare that includes a program dubbed JADC2 (Joint All-Domain Command and Control). The dreams of madmen. Artificial Intelligence will be used more and more to conduct war via space-based satellites, taking the decision-making of an attack out of the hands of humans. China is now the big enemy, the supposed threatening danger. How much longer will we use the sales of weapons as a form of diplomacy? It all takes on a life of its own, this machine we have set in motion. Father forgive them, they know not what they do. God is concerned with mercy, not sacrifice, loving kindness, not harsh judgment. Feed the hungry at hand. God is not concerned with the ornate vestments and rich altar settings at St. Joseph’s Cathedral here. He is with the dying drug addict outside the door. The other day a homilist referenced John Paul II and Benedict the 16th in their doctrinal wisdom and upholding of Church tradition. Not a word about Francis and the call for nuclear abolition. The Church needs to be a field hospital for reaching out and caring for those at the margins. Yet despite all of this kind of thing around us, God’s spirit is most profound, is still present to us. We just have to open “the ears of our hearts” as Saint Benedict preached. I am not capable of this work without keeping an open heart to learn how to love those around me no matter what. No one here should be reduced only to the crime they have committed.
Great inspiration is to be found in Avivah Zornberg’s book “Moses A Human Life “. The chapter “Moses Veiled and Unveiled ” speaks of the teacher’s face. The story is so full of mystery and grace, grace being the participation in the divine life. Poor Moses goes up to his divine God, and then back down to his sinning people, over and over again. His face is bare to God, the lightness is taken on by this intimacy with God but it is too much for his people to see. The impact is so great that he must veil his face. But they must see his face when he teaches! He brings the tablets of testimony, so desperately needed, yet so difficult to follow. Moses will not let go of God until He forgives his sinning people. The story is too much for me to bear, I desire to understand it but can’t hold onto it. I just want God to hold my face with infinite tenderness.
I will be leaving this place on the same day as surgery is scheduled to remove a regrowth of a tumor in my right ear. The timing is dreadful, I have no idea how it will all work out. Symptoms have worsened over the past four months, it is not good to wait. I spend my days trying to keep to a routine that has sustained me over the past seven months. There is a white birch tree outside the window where I sit for so much of the time. The wind caresses the branches and leaves with such sacred movement. I can’t hear the wind in the leaves due to the closed window, the A/C unit, and my loss of hearing. At various times in my life there has been a passing, strange sensation of being with people and having a profound sense of not belonging, and yet here I am. Where do we belong in this world, and with whom? Strangers become intimate companions on a certain level, in a certain way. It must be the Mystical Body of Christ, we are all one of another. The billionaire tycoons of the day don’t feel this, don’t see that it is our money that they take to build they’re supposed escape/survival vehicles as they destroy our world. It is all idolatry, the golden calf, the fear of abandonment, worship of the medium rather than the source. As tired as He is Jesus keeps going out to heal, to teach, to bless, to know. We can adore You only to the extent that we do as You did. Same for Dorothy. How dare we eat of the body of Christ, while withholding food from the people?