Wiped clean: celebrating the Eucharist with Sacred Space

Posted on December 10, 2013

I’ve had the privilege to celebrate Eucharist with Sacred Space Hayward five or six times in the past year. Almost invariably, I leave whistling. Or some variant of that, like turning up the car stereo and singing along as I drive off. I think it’s because I feel wiped clean after worshiping with the homeless folks in that park.

When I lived in San Francisco, I passed at least one or two people asking for money, everywhere I went. After being scammed out of funds a few times — seeing the same people use the same sob story weeks later on a different block — I resolved to never give anyone cash again. “Maybe food or a snack bar, but my money will instead go to organizations that help the homeless,” I told myself. Then, nothing: no food, no donations, and barely a nod to those who held their hand out on the sidewalks. Imperceptibly, I shut them out. At first, I felt self-righteous; then, guilty; finally, numb.
 
And here’s why it matters to go to church, among other reasons: Sometimes we need our conscience pricked awake. Hearing Sunday gospel texts like, “sell everything you have and come follow me,” or “whenever you did it to the least of these, you did it to me,” can catch you off guard and leave you a bit red-faced. That happened to me, and it was irritating. But I hope it happens to you, too. After swatting these messages away a few times, I was stung by the realization that I had become less human every time I treated a homeless person as less than human. Each time I saw things as “us” and “them” — they smell, they don’t really want to be helped, they’re using drugs, they are crazy — I closed off any chance of there ever being a “we.” But Christ calls us, only and always, to relationship. We are each and every one of us a child of God.
 
To practice relationship is to risk being hurt, which is scary and uncomfortable. To shut off connection is safer, but you also disengage from your sweetest self, the one that loves with ease and trusts with abandon. I recommend living into your sweetness, however that manifests. One way for me is attending a Sacred Space Eucharist.

Relationship at the park in Hayward looks like this: learning everyone’s name, at least for an hour; taking turns reading and praying; opening the sermon to anyone with something to share; listening to people’s stories, and telling one of your own; handing out a meal every Sunday, rain or shine, and knowing it’s you who’s being fed; missing people who haven’t shown up for a while and praying for their safety; letting someone’s gratitude for your presence sink in without minimizing it; un-learning prejudices about others (“wow, the homeless can read!” was, alas, one of my insights); finally realizing that you’re not that different from the folks in that park. That last one came to me one day, when I was offering pastoral care to a woman after the service. Twice, friends came by with a meal for her, because our talk was running long and she hadn’t gotten food. When we were done, I told her, “You got double the food because people care about you!” And I saw then that God created us all for loving, for showing compassion.

So I whistle after Sacred Space. I just got to worship and be fed, to sweeten and be sweetened (“pass the sugar!”), to commune with the body of Christ. My sometimes-stingy soul is wiped clean.

[Editor’s note: this article originally appeared in the December 2013 issue of the Sacred Space newsletter. Sacred Space is a specialized mission of the Diocese of California. You can find information about the mission on their website: sacredspaceeastbay.weebly.com or follow Sacred Space East Bay on Facebook here.}