Friday, May 30, 2008

Of Labyrinths and Sandwiches

I walked the outdoor labyrinth at Grace Cathedral , San Francisco, this week. It was a significant moment for me, as it was a priest on staff at this cathedral who pioneered the modern use of the labyrinth. It has been an important tool for me personally and for the brothers' ministry at Little Portion Friary where we built an enormous turf labyrinth that attracts hundreds of visitors. I think it was Rev. Lauren Artress of Grace Cathedral who first said that the labyrinth is an externalized archetype of life's journey. I often tell people my ministry as Minister General is a pilgrimage for me. Following the twisting paths I thought about all the different experiences I have had; trust and acceptance is the message I got from this important walk. I have to trust in the leading of the Holy Spirit (and the goodwill and love of the people around me: the world is full of grace and love!) and accept the struggles I have as part of my learning curve as I seek to live into the journey I am on.

It is weird taking your own picture, but there wasn't anybody around to snap it for me...

Fortunately most of the difficulties I face can be classified as "luxury" problems: scheduling flights, making meetings, solving problems and meeting publication deadlines. I was reminded that many people have much more basic and difficult problems, and I wonder how I would face them; the brothers in the San Francisco area are deeply involved in ministry with the hungry and homeless.
While I was staying with the brothers at St. Clare's House in Berkeley, we went out after dinner one night to distribute peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to the people on the streets. Some weren't interested in the sandwiches, but wanted to talk, others only wanted the sandwiches and to be left alone. Brothers Eric, Christopher Paul and Max share this ministry and at least two of them go out once a week. We met many people, some obviously looked out for the brothers and greeted them warmly. We all agreed that it might only be a band-aid to a huge social problem but getting out sure beat sitting around the house wondering what we could do to help. The experience forms a basis for reflection, and the conversations with people who are homeless or at risk on the streets challenge any prejudice we might have. I also think it gives authority to any advocacy work we will do in the future. I remember Dorothy Day writing about a young man who came to see her on his way to Washington DC where he'd landed a job that he expected would eradicate poverty. I think she felt a bit patronized by him as she showed him around the New York soup kitchen. After he left, she mused, "I wonder how many poor people he knows?"

Later in the week I went with Br. Simon to St. Anthony's Dining Room in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. Simon volunteers there every Thursday, serving lunch. We were there from 10:30 until 1:30 and served over 2500 meals: gumbo, rice, green salad, bread, oranges and cake. I was really tired afterwards. The more experienced volunteers (there were about 15 volunteers and 10 staff) nodded knowingly, saying, "the first day can be real hard. Its kind of emotional." Indeed.

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