ON Wednesday Evenings, I feed the homeless of Berkeley at a Lutheran Church near the Cal campus. I started doing this about a year and a half ago when a friend of mine, who was then just back into Alcoholic Anonymous meetings and sobriety after many years out, recommended the experience.
Doing this has changed me. At first, it took some getting used to – the smells of people who sleep rough in the streets, who have no dental care, no medical care, faces and bodies begrimed by the doorways that are their pillows every night, and from some the odor of whatever chemical they use to ease the pain of being forgotten.
There are others who are fastidious about their personal hygiene; they sleep in cars or (when it’s not pouring rain) in parks. One guy in the halls bought a house and, because he was naive, was cheated out of thousands of dollars, and at the end of it had no house and had lost his job and was on the streets.
There are as many stories in the meal hall as there are diners.
That’s the thing about dealing one-on-one with homeless people: they stop being a category – a mental abstraction, a them – and become richly complex individuals with stories as filled with vice and Divine Grace as my own. When I started, I thought I was bringing Christ’s compassion to them – but I realized as time went on that they were really bringing Christ to me. In those weary faces at the tables, I saw Christ staring back at me, asking me where I’d been all this time. He had been out there, in doorways, shivering in cold rains and stumbling in rags and singing to the midnight streets, waiting for me to show up.
I feed Him in His Homeless, and in return, in an act of astounding and tender mercy, He shows me the depths of my own brokenness.
Blessed be the Lord.