The Spiritual Practice of Being Poor

Homeless-snow

photo from obrab.org

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.”