I used to think that, in case of sudden, severe bad weather, I would be ‘trapped” at St. John’s alone, and then it might be an adventure to spend the night here.
It wouldn’t be so hard. I would turn on the fireplace in the Fireside Room, pull up a chair and a lamp, and settle in for the evening next to the glowing hearth. I might choose some books from the library downstairs or bring the TV. in from the storage room. I could find food in one of the four refrigerators in the place (being careful not to plunder the supplies reserved for the Big Net!). Maybe I would put my feet up on the couch and chat with my friends on the phone, or go back to my office and connect to the Internet. Later I’d snuggle down under my coat on one of the couches in the Fireside Room and doze off as I watched the snowflakes falling softly under the streetlights outside the windows.
The whole scenario just reeks of coziness.
I’m not sure that coziness is a reachable goal for Project Home.
It’s the pink bed that got me today.
The pink bed looks like it belongs in a child’s cozy bedroom but it is in the St. John’s gym, part of the set-up for the homeless visitors who will arrive here in two hours – and every day for the next month. Here the bedroom “walls” are not covered with wallpaper of scampering elephants and frolicking bunnies, but are six-foot high cardboard dividers that stand on their own somehow. Those, and the red wooden dividers that St. John’s always has in the gym are the extent of the privacy we can offer the guests at Project Home. Sometimes children have decorated the dividers with pictures of flowers and crayon markings saying things like “This is my room. Keep out.” Bedtime for everyone is at nine because it’s time to get up at six to make the bus that comes at seven.
In Robert Frost’s poem, “The Death of the Hired Man,” a farm wife tells her husband that their long-time hired man has returned:
“’Warren,” she said, “he has come home to die:
You needn’t be afraid he’ll leave you this time.’
‘Home,’ he mocked gently.
‘Yes, what else but home?
It all depends on what you mean by home.
Of course he’s nothing to us, any more
Than was the hound that came a stranger to us
Out of the woods, worn out upon the trail.’
‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.’
‘I should have called it
Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.’”
To say that some people “deserve” a home and others don’t would not sit well with Jesus. But realistically, not everyone in this country (let alone the word) has the means (financial, emotional, circumstances, whatever) to have a home, in the standard sense.
What a privilege it is for us, for a short time, to provide one.
Not a real home of course, but a roof over the head, some food on the table, a bed in which to sleep. Basic shelter from the brutal winter.
I think that winter increases the gratitude that we feel for our homes and basic “creature comforts.” On cold winter nights especially, I often inventory my blessings as the wind howls outside, reveling in the coziness of warm quilts and hot chocolate. You don’t take things as much for granted in the winter, especially when you look into the gym at St. John’s or hear about hotels in Uganda..
The fact that we have the blessings of a physical home, when so many in the world do not is a reality that’s easy to dismiss. Until the homeless move into our gym, or parishioners travel to Uganda, and for a moment, we see and hear other sides of the human story. The insights we get from such occasions are ours only if we reach out and take them, if we let them into our vast zones of comfort – our innermost homes — and don’t keep the doors locked tightly against the troubling questions. The ones that bother us but offer no clear answers. Those questions….
Perhaps the Jesus who was himself homeless extends a special blessing to his children of all ages who will rest within the walls of St. John’s tonight.
See you in church,