For four years now I have been working with the homeless population and have been puzzled by the level of faith exhibited by those who have so little. I have tried to find some rational explanation for it, but have always come up empty. Years ago I discovered the concept of “preferential option for the poor” while studying liberation theology in seminary. This concept struck me as exactly opposite what I had heard espoused by religious leaders who claimed that God blesses those who are “righteous” and punishes those who are “wicked”, surly poverty was a curse and not a blessing…right? If you follow this line of thinking then the poor are somehow less faithful, in need of “Jesus”. For years the people in the pews have been urged “to carry Jesus” to the poor. This makes for a good recruiting line for ministers like me, but the reality of my experience has shown me quite the opposite. Instead of finding Christless, lost souls, I have instead found people filled to overflowing with a faith so much more mature than mine that is makes me uneasy.
My uneasiness comes from my status of “minister” which my education was supposed to prepare me for. The sad reality is that I am the one being ministered to on a regular basis by those I thought I was called to care for. Every day, God sends a new missionary into my office who sits across from me and reminds me that God is in control. It sounds something like this “Mrs. Wendy, why are you so worried. You know God’s got it, right?” I shake my head in agreement but my heart is held by the tight fist of anxiety, my face scarred with the years of worrying, and my smile lost in a sea of concern; I am fooling no one.
Somehow my education had fallen short, somehow my spiritual practices have not matured my faith to the level of these homeless men and women, what am I doing wrong? How do I claim a faith as strong as theirs?
I think Jim’s statement about being “the one” holds the key to my understanding. Perhaps the liberation theologians were right, perhaps God is with those who are poor, oppressed and suffering in a way that the rest of us can never fully get. Perhaps this level of faith is a gift from God given to allow them to persevere through difficult circumstances. Perhaps it is not something that I can attain or acquire through effort, study or practice. I keep hoping their faith will rub off on me and that somehow through osmosis; I will someday arrive where they are. So far that has not happened but maybe someday.