Humanity, shining like the sun
By Lori Dexter
Many regions across the prairies experienced a little taste of winter in the early part of October. Temperatures dropped, the wind blew cold and the first snow fell. It was a reminder of what’s on the way and, for those living on the street, the reality of winter must be harsh.
The staff at the Bissell Centre in Edmonton’s inner city inform me that in wintertime homeless people line up around the block to get into the drop-in centre on Saturday afternoons. Some of the services offered are showers, laundry, personal hygiene items, coffee/tea and a light lunch.
They seem to be short on everything, including helping hands, but one thing they are not short on are people who need help.
Jesus says, “follow me and become fishers of people,” and in another place he says, “the harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few.” Both these passages rang true for me as I spent a few hours with the folks at the Bissell Centre. There is no doubt that the poor and homeless in our cities need the basics of life: a warm place, food, drink, clean water to wash themselves and their clothes, but more than anything they need to feel they are valued and loved. When Jesus says that the harvest is plentiful, I take it to mean that there are many gentle souls out there needing to know that God cares for them and loves them. To be fishers of people and labourers of the harvest, Christians are called not only to share their possessions or money, but their love. That is a tall order and sometimes it seems easier to open our wallets than to open our hearts.
How do we love the people who call the street home? How do you love someone who smells bad and looks bad, or someone you fear might be violent or strung out on drugs? For me, it is essential to look beyond the exterior and to see with the “eyes of the heart.” These people seem as harsh as the winter itself, but when I truly see them, I realize they are just the opposite. They are not harsh and they are not hard. In fact, they are often the most sensitive among us. They are the gentle souls whom the world has chewed up and spit out onto the street. They are the ones who are loving, kind and vulnerable and when they encountered the unloving, the unkind and the cruel, their hearts were broken and their spirits crushed. Perhaps some then turned to drugs, alcohol or sex in an effort to escape the pain caused by their difficult life experiences. But these “pain-killers” snowballed into the complex problems of abuse, addiction, poor mental and physical health, broken relationships and families, poverty and crime.
I am learning that loving people involves understanding people. It means walking a mile in their shoes and it means not judging. God’s love is a free gift. It is intended to flow into us and through us and back to God in the form of thanksgiving and praise. Loving people is about helping them come to realize this love that is all around them and within them.
Thomas Merton once had an epiphany where he saw all the people around him just the way God sees them, and in his wonder and amazement he said to himself, “There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
I think Merton was right — there is no way of telling people, but there is a way of showing people. When we look at a street person (or any person) with God’s love, then we reflect that same love back to them and they see it for themselves. It becomes a reality in their lives and can act like the spring sunshine upon the snow, melting away the layers of a painful life and encouraging new growth to begin.
Dexter lives in Gibbons, Alta. She has a certificate in Pastoral Services from Newman Theological College and is a member of Emmaus Inclusive Catholic Community in Edmonton.