Today, I share a post about life: unmasked, a blog meme started by my sensational friend, Joy.
"Wait. What did you just say?"
Isn't that how you said pamphlet?
"Why do you keep pronouncing it that way?" Antonia started to laugh. The teasing, joyful laugh. "It has a soft ph sound."
I made a comment about her minor in English.
"No, no." She insisted, all furtive grace even in laughter. "Trust the girl who used to hand out tracts."
It was later, when we were all crowded on the bench outside the restaurant, emotions high and wavering, when the homeless woman came over and asked if she could sit with us. I got up and sat on the floor against the brick wall. Antonia talked to her, listened, asked her the quiet things.
Eventually we had to go inside. The woman asked us if we had any money because she was trying to rent a room. She showed us the business card of where she was trying to go, told us the exact amount she needed, showed us her driver's license, said she would be 63 in two months.
None of us had any money except for debit cards. I had a single dollar bill. I gave it to her. I asked if she was hungry. She said yes, but it would have to be soft food. She wouldn't come inside, but she would sit there on the bench and wait.
We ordered it to-go. For some reason it took longer than our own food and I sat there, at the table with the people I love, with the people who are fragile and vagabond in their own ways, and I turned over in my head the woman outside and wondered if she would be there by the time the food came.
And I wondered about the past week. I seem to run into the hungry or the possibly hungry often now. If this is the silence of God, it is a funny kind of silence.
I took the to-go bag outside and found her, as I breathed a quiet prayer of thanks, still sitting on that bench. I handed over the food and nearly walked away, because I didn't know what to do.
I felt blood pool in my feet and I sat, looking over at her and asking her name.
She smelled like lilly of the valley. She cried. She told me that she felt like she knew me and she began to cry more. She hugged me for bringing her food. She told me that since she felt that we were close she could share that the one thing that hurt the most was the way people looked at her.
And I didn't know what to say. I didn't know how to help. I didn't know what to do.
I asked her if she knew the church that was close by, but she was so worried about getting that room it didn't matter. But I didn't have money. I didn't think I had anything.
I had forgotten the protocol. I had forgotten the rote training of evangelism that said all a person needed was Jesus, that little sentence prayer, and it would all be alright. I kept wondering if I was supposed to do that, if I was supposed to put to Willa Mae the trite Gospel of forgiven sins but no place to rest her head.
I remembered when I used to think people were fixed by handing them a pamphlet.
I felt peace. I felt the peace of the silent God that I felt Willa Mae already knew.
I asked if I could pray for her.
It has been nearly four years since I volunteered to pray aloud and in front of and for a perfect stranger. I have prayed for people that have not known I was praying for them, have prayed for those I have met a few times, but it has been since the days of rambling glory and hope church camps that I reached out to a perfect stranger and asked to convey an intimacy too great for speech.
She asked if I would. So I did, jagged and struggling words. I prayed for her highest good, since I didn't know what exactly that was. I prayed she would find a room. I prayed that her family would be alright. I prayed that she would be fed often. (And I meant, by that, feeding in every single way.)
When I was done she hugged me tight and I smelled lilly of the valley again. Lilies, like the flower representing the Virgin Mary and the hope of Christ, which solemnly but quietly spring from crucifixion scenes in the Renaissance.
And then I had nothing else, she had nothing else, so I went back inside.
An hour later, our small band of bric-a-brac grace and hard won love walked out of the restaurant to find Willa Mae still there.
"I'm $-- away," she called, "It was your prayer!"
Maybe. Maybe it was.
Who can fathom the mind of God? Who can know what the Spirit or the angels work for the simplest good?
Willa Mae with the kind eyes and the smells of summer. Willa Mae who only needed a place to rest her head.
It's so hard for me to hear Him right now.
Had I given her a stone to sleep on by only putting food in her hands? Had I missed the call to look after the poor? Had I missed the moment in which I was supposed to share the Gospel, lead her in that sentence prayer, guarantee her eternal soul?
Willa Mae was smiling. Damp eyes and turned up lips, smiling. Peaceful smiling.
"I think she knew." Antonia said on our way back, passing under the intermittent lights of the underpass like so much glory to glory. "Call it the old charismatic in me, but I think she knew."
Gospel. This is gospel. Willa Mae knew the Saviour. Somehow.
Sometimes, all we have is the specter of uncomfortable grace. The moment in which we feel all of it is wrong: cosmos, words, and most of all ourselves. And in that space, the Holy Ghost enters and turns all this fumbling doubt into food for years to come.
At least, this is the great and alarming hope.
"I think she did too." I said. "I felt it too."
And we continued on into the night, under the watch of the stars hidden behind late winter clouds, but which shine all the same.
It is my joy, with Joy, to share here words that expose life honestly, openly, and messily. Some days my posts for this meme are about this chaos of being, other days I manage a bit more gentle words.Would you join us in sharing the vulnerable times, the unordered times, the unkempt rooms?