The Spiritual Practice of Being Poor


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Story Recording:  “The Miser’s Slippers” by Shoshannah Brombacher

My Mennonite faith community is situated in the heart of a neighborhood rife with homelessness, and our mission is one of radical hospitality.  Praying for the community is a rich sacramental experience for me.  Intentions are heartfelt.  People listen deeply and check up on one another during the fellowship time that follows the service.  Last Sunday desperate, choking sobs emitted from the side of the sanctuary, from “Rita’s” usual place.  “I pray, I just beg God, to have my children call me today. Please, God, just today, please.”  We talked for a long time outside afterwards.  “Rita” has been homeless for fifteen years. She suffers from mental illness, and her children have been unresponsive.  She’s been clean for many years, and her shaking hand lighting the cigarette tells that story.

This week we remembered the day Lyndon Johnson declared “War on Poverty” fifty years ago.  John Goodman notes that taxpayers have spent $1.5 trillion since 1975 “fighting” poverty.  Experts suggest that we now spend $1 trillion a year. (Josh Archambault Jan. 8, 2014 at an NRO Symposium).  “Rita” would be grateful just to be SEEN.

Shoshannah Brombacher’s story, “The Miser’s Slippers,” prompted me to name my homeless friend after myself, because if I don’t put myself in her place, there is no room for her in my soul.  Shoshannah stresses that the man is a miser. That he is rich seems secondary.  When we live miserly lives of attachment to material goods, we don’t see the poor.  As human beings, our call is to cultivate a practice of spiritual poverty, by holding our possessions and our status like feathers in our hand. This practice, over time, removes the scales over our eyes and allows us to understand and empathize, and ultimately share.  I call the world to this spiritual practice of being poor, to honor what President Johnson began and end the need for the “War on Poverty.”

11 thoughts on “The Spiritual Practice of Being Poor

  1. I am always appalled at the contempt some display towards the less fortunate, as if being rich is some kind of spiritual mastery. Materialism tears the heart and soul out of us, blinding us to compassion, tolerance and kindness. Thank you for your post, it’s lovely.


  2. I am a U. Methodist and we are involved with a ministry called, Lazarus Table (through a sister church in the urban core), feeding, housing, finding work for homeless people in our urban core of Kansas City. My husband and I have been to the downtown church to feed the homeless, to walk the Sojourner walk with a Sojourner (kind, respectful word for homeless person) and send items always needed: underwear and socks, paperback books, and money to the ministry at Grand Avenue Temple. I have never been homeless, but my mother-teacher told me of homeless kids who sometimes slept in a car in her classroom group, because their parents could not pay their rent. This was when I was a young girl. Mother made sure they were quietly and respectfully shown available aid in the surrounding community. At one point in my own upbringing my Dad lost his job and I saw my parents worry about money and the house payment, but thankfully I never had to experience homelessness. It’s so trying and exhausting to be poor. This reading about the rich man experiencing cold for the first time was hopeful. That it should be so easy to take the blinders off a community member’s eyes and the closed heart and help to open it to what it might feel like to be cold, hungry, homeless was this Rabbi’s goal for one of his congregants. I pray for more minster leaders like this Rabbi and more congregants who open their hearts and share God’s blessings with their neighbors. That is why I continue to be in groups like CCO – Communities Creating Opportunity, JPEG-Justice, Peace, Environment Group, and Missions at my local church. We need community that supports one another in action: spiritually, financially-materially, intellectually, and in our acts of compassion for each other.


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