Saturday, September 3, 2016
OUR SCRIPTURAL NEIGHBORHOOD
In the monastery we live a “scriptural life,” steeped in the scriptures at every turn, not only by praying the Psalms together, but also by letting our hearts and attitudes be formed by our reading of and constantly reflecting upon the Word of God. This past week I noticed how I bring that scriptural attitude with me when I leave the monastery grounds and travel through our neighborhood in the center of Newark, and so meet characters from the bible right on our street.
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” (Mt 18:10)
This past Tuesday I was walking down the William Street hill beside the monastery grounds. Half a block in front of me a woman was leaning into the back seat of her car, placing an infant into its car seat. Since William Street is one way, the driver’s side of the car was next to the curb. She had evidently told her three-year old daughter to stand beside her and wait. The three-year old, however, had other ideas.
As quick as a flash (any parent of a young child knows what I mean) the little one darted behind her mom’s car. I was barely paying attention until I heard the blare of a horn and the screech of brakes. But just as quick as the three-year old had been a man in his thirties who happened to be walking up the hill at the exact spot. He disappeared after the little one an instant before the horn blew, and a couple of seconds later reappeared on the sidewalk, gently tugging the little girl by the hand.
As I approached the car, the mom and the gentleman were silently looking at each other, each of them, presumably, trying not to think of what had almost happened. The good Samaritan let go of the girl’s hand and she ran to her mother. He leaned against a nearby car and put his hand on his chest, saying “Man! My heart is poundin’. Man, that was close! I saw her take off running and I knew what she was gonna do, so I ran and – I was right – I grabbed her just as she went into the street. Man! My heart! I can’t take too many close ones like that!” Still with his hand on his chest, he was smiling as he shook his head in happy disbelief.
The mother, like her daughter and I, was trying to let the whole experience sink in. It had only been one minute ago. Slowly it dawned on all of the grownups that something extraordinary had just happened. I said to the two of them, “Well, her guardian angel was sure working this afternoon!”
As the woman began to thank the man who had just saved her child’s life, I continued on my way down the hill, wondering why that gentleman had been on that side of the street and not the other, why he happened to be just a few feet from the toddler at exactly that moment, and why he happened to be watching her just at the instant she decided to run into the street. Sometimes, I decided, there’s more going on in our neighborhood than what the eye can see.
LAZARUS THE BEGGAR
“Lord, when did we see you hungry and not give you something to eat?” (Mt 25:44)
Yesterday I was driving to the Benedictine sisters' monastery twenty minutes away to say morning mass. I was stopped in a line of five or six cars, waiting for the light at King Boulevard and Clinton Avenue. Up ahead I saw a man dressed as shabbily as you could imagine, slouching his way up the line of cars, shaking a paper cup. Before he got to me, the light changed and the traffic jolted into motion. I whizzed past him, and in my rearview mirror I saw the man signaling to a driver with the fingertips of his hand bunched up and pointing toward his mouth in the universal sign for food. He wasn’t asking for money; he was asking for something to eat. I felt bad that the light had changed so soon – I probably would have given him something. Driving away, I wondered how often I leave people in my rearview mirror still hungry for something that I might have given them: an encouraging smile, an affirming word, a helping hand. As it turned out, I must have made an unconscious decision not to miss the next opportunity to help someone in need.
“Pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances,
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess. 5:16-18)
That same morning, on the way back from saying mass, I was the third car in line, stopped for the light at King Boulevard and West Kinney, a few blocks from home. This time it was a woman, looking every bit as worn and weary as the brother I’d driven past in the opposite direction an hour ago. Once again the light changed just as she was approaching my car, but this time I called to her, “Let me pull over so we don’t block traffic.” I drove through the intersection and parked at the curb. I pulled a dollar out of my wallet as her figure grew larger in my side mirror.
“Good morning, ma’am. What’s your name?" I asked.
“Darlene," she replied. "And I wonder if you could please spare me some change so I can get me something to eat?”
As I handed her the dollar, I looked into her tired eyes and said, “Please pray for me, Darlene.” I always say that, and mean it sincerely.
But it seems that when you ask Darlene “Please pray,” she wastes no time. Standing in King Boulevard she began praying aloud, seeming very comfortable with addressing the Lord. “Father God, I just thank you for this priest who just gave me a dollar, Father, so I can get me something to eat. Dear Lord, I ask you to bless him and all the people he will be with this day. Thank you, Lord, Jesus; bless you, Lord Jesus. Amen.”
Passing drivers could see Darlene speaking, but they probably would not have guessed that she was praying up a small spiritual storm of thanks and petition.
I wished her a blessed day, and drove away, marveling at the ease with which a hungry street person could sanctify an early morning moment by having an impromptu prayer meeting with a friendly stranger in the middle of the street.
As I parked the car in the monastery lot, I realized that our neighborhood is filled with people right out of the pages of the bible. They give one plenty of food for meditation on God's loving presence all around us.