June 30, 2008

Anger and Hope on the Street

Author: Reverend Mair Honan, Grace-Street Ministry

Most of the seven women in the spiritual support group this evening in the shelter seemed very tired. B. had said, “I’m coming in but I’ll probably fall asleep” and in a few moments, next to me, she did seem to be sound asleep. The rest were discussing where you could find a bathroom downtown. As usual, I was finding out all sorts of information. Which bathrooms were off limits, which might be used, and the growing trend that places were becoming less friendly to the homeless. They all agreed that you had to get out as much as possible from the day shelter that was so chaotic and noisy a lot of the time. These wandering women were looking for some peace and comfort in between their appointments and meals at the soup kitchen. They were dealing with a level of stress that exhausted me just thinking about it.

My reflection on their condition was interrupted when a new woman suddenly asked loudly, “What is this group about?” She continued, “I need to rant for awhile, can I do that here? I’m so tired of being put down, of being judged and ridiculed.” She shared her experience of being threatened by another woman in the shelter and that trying to avoid the abuser wasn’t working. Another woman added, “You have to see that person every day.” “Respect is what I believe in. That’s my religion.” the first woman said. She then asked, “Why do people treat each other so badly?”

We all sat in the silence of the question for a bit, then I offered what I believe to be a truth, “This life is not just.” A woman on my left then spoke up, “All in God’s time. Not our time.” Here was a woman who had been living for months in the homeless shelter, reminding us of a hope that I only periodically feel. Can we hold both anger and hope? It seems to be an authentic human need to experience both. If one doesn’t feel outrage at the injustice we see and experience we have numbed ourselves to levels of evil, detached ourselves from our connectedness. But if we don’t experience at least some of the time the reality of hope, a vision of what can be, we have no compass. Anger cannot be our only motivator. We will only burn. And hope, without the truth that anger unveils, can lead to a contorted, polyanna response to the human experience. They seem to be like two tracks for the train – we can proceed when hope and anger are real.

As the group ended, I handed out a card which read –

Daily Spiritual Recipe
Think about the Mystery of God
Talk with God
Rant and rave to God
Praise and glorify
Chat and question with God
Then be Quiet and Listen

The woman who had first shared her experience of being threatened looked it over and asked, “Do you mean you can get angry at God?” “ Yes”, I said (speaking from personal experience and thinking of the psalmists.) It was the first time that evening that I saw her smile. She looked genuinely relieved.

Yes, I thought, this world is not just! Here were women trying hard to balance and proceed through it all, when they frequently cannot even find a damn bathroom. Anger and hope.

I use to believe I had no right working on the streets or in the shelters on days when I didn’t experience much hope but that thought was fueled by a skewed view of what being a pastor is about. I don’t hold the hope for others as if I have it in my pocket. I just have signed up as anyone has on a spiritual path, to return over and over again to the point of remembering. I frequently meet hope at that point also. I also look around and feel the injustice of life and anger shows up too and that’s how it goes.