Unexpected Teachers

This post was featured in the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego’s weekly “Salt & Light”

A friend of mine who’s offered writing workshops in a prison for years, tells me her ministry has been more about her own transformation than that of the men she works with. She says these people, seen as throwaways by the rest of the world, are actually some of the most real, most open, most generous human beings she has spent time with. I understood that intellectually.

Up until about year ago, our meal program at St. Andrew’s, Encinitas was on Fridays, but because Fridays are my Sabbath, I was seldom able to attend. Since moving the program to Saturdays, I’ve not only witnessed the wonderful energy boost in our base of ecumenical volunteers, as they see how happy people are to receive clothes, a shower, a haircut AND a hot breakfast, all in one place, I’ve befriended many of our guests.

At first, I think I had an unconscious expectation that I’d feel gratified by being of service. Instead, these guys (there are a few women, but the guests are predominately male) teach me about generosity. One would think that with no job, few possessions, and little money, they’d have nothing to give. What they have, however, and what they give so freely of, are their hearts and spirits.

On Thanksgiving Day, for example, as we were preparing to serve dinner at St. Andrew’s, our friends were making their way to us on foot—despite the torrential downpours outside. Once inside, we invited them to relax in our “Cozy Corner”. Sitting on sofas and bean bags, they were enjoying the warmth of a small space heater.

I offered to add a movie to the mix, but, between maneuvering through the Smart TV menu, and locating my Netflix password, at least 15 minutes passed. Looking back from the screen to those gathered, I apologized for taking so long. But the only thing I saw on their faces were looks of contentment. In fact, one of them said, “Oh, that’s alright. We’re inside; we’re warm; and it’s entertaining just watching you.” Wow! Imagine what life would be like if we all were as generous in spirit!

During this season of Christmas, many things will distract us from what really matters. If we let them, these things will take up the space in which hope, generosity and joy should reside. Here’s a quote to help keep you grounded. It’s from Richard Rohr’s Preparing for Christmas: “The ‘joy that the world cannot give’ (John 14:27) always comes as a gift to those who wait for it, expect it and make room for it inside themselves.”

May you have a blessed Christmastide!