Dennis, Alex and I took to the streets yesterday with our trade-mark trolley of give-aways, and passed the time it takes to walk from the Mission to the Shelter for the Homeless, engaged in earnest conversation. Dennis is a bit disillusioned. I think if there was an OFSTED for Churches, and I’d quite like to start one, (GODSTED?) he feels his would be in Special Measures.
I pause for thought. We are very fortunate at GCM (Gloucester City Mission) because when Dennis and I joined, the hard work had been done, Missioners are accepted and respected on the streets, and we have a fun time being nice to people. In the four years I’ve been dispensing loving-kindness in the shape of a sausage roll, I have never been insulted, assaulted, or treated in any way other than kindly. I am very grateful to the street-people for being so generous with their time and forbearance. I often wonder what they really think of us!
Dennis thinks his church is too complacent. He was particularly wound up by the apparent lack of concern for the poor by the bankers in his midst. I am surprised. I had stereotyped Dennis’ church as being low-brow evangelical, and necessarily short on bankers: goes to show how misleading prejudice can be.
“Dennis,” I say, having come over all preachy, “Why don’t you give the banker the same opportunity to open himself to you as you do Bill Jones?” (Bill is the poster-tramp of the Mission, and proud of it.) Dennis looks at me in awe, and I am overcome with smugness. I am, you may spot this, taking him to Martin Buper’s insight that, “All real living is meeting.” You can’t know anything about anyone unless you make the effort to share your vulnerability with them. Or just listen to them. Really.
“You should be the pastor of a church.” Dennis says, and I stare at him in disbelief: several disqualifications immediately springing to mind. One of the best things about being a Catholic is that I’m NEVER going to be burdened with THAT.
However, I did get to do some pastoring. The aforementioned Bill Jones was waiting for us in the porch outside the shelter.
Bill greets me with enthusiasm. He doesn’t so much flirt with me as insist that we get married. “Over my husband’s dead body, Bill,” I laugh, and he does too. It’s our ritual, so don’t get reading anything into it.
“I’m barred,” he says by way of explaining why he’s outside the shelter, not in it. He usually is. He’s also usually drunk, which is, more often than not, why he’s barred. Bill is not a quiet drunk.
He’s been ejected from his room in a hostel for, allegedly, killing one of the other residents. I ask him about this and he answers evadively: “You don’t want to know.” He’s wrong, I DO want to know, but I’m not about to press him.
“Where are you living now Bill?”
“Here,” he replies, pointing to the ground beneath his feet. Hey-ho Bill. Have a sausage roll.
He then engages me with a brilliant stare and begins to gabble. Well, this is new. So I reply in tongues, make the sign of the cross on his head and say a blessing.
“I liked it when you did that. Do it again!” So I do.
At this point. his social worker arrives essaying yet another attempt to get him to see sense on the housing issue. I hear him tell her he wants to go to Scotland. I get the feeling that she wants him to go to Scotland too, and really, I wouldn’t blame her.
It was only a matter of time.
I recently re-read 'A Leaf By Niggle' A quirky little fairy tale by JRR Tolkein about a man who had to go on a journey, but kept putting it off. I first read it in my teens, and it sat just under my heart waiting to be useful, as most fables do. It emerged recently, as the feeling of 'being in a journey grew in roughly the same place.
' In a journey' are well-chosen words, as this meander seems to be happening TO me: joyfully and poignantly, as in recently observing all three of my daughters approach important rites of passage, leading me to think, as one must, about my own final ritual and passing. Which, I hasten to add, is a long way off. Somewhere in the region of 43 years, if all goes to plan.
Mind you, I am content to slip away any time, filled as I am with intense gratitude for a life that it has been a privilege to live: so utterly blessed. However:
I am a curious soul, both in terms of being the tiniest bit eccentric, and in being full of curiosity. I am seeking Enlightenment with the help of my close associate, Celeste Finbow. I am very fond of 'Celeste', an ancient soul, named, I believe, for the fairies at the bottom of the garden, who is in this journey with me. She is as real as anyone else you may meet on the internet, in case you're wondering… . Well, I was musing about Enlightenment and Celeste remarked that I'd had my moment and missed it.
“You what?” I interjected, astonished, and not a little perturbed.
She handed me a stone tablet on which was inscribed:
IMPUNE POSSIS CREDERE QUOD VOLES
An adept with Google Translate, I shall save you the bother:
YOU CAN BELIEVE WHAT YOU LIKE AND GET AWAY WITH IT
Golly! That's it! So Celeste and I are going to start the Final Religion. We shall dispense with Latin immediately, as the first Rule. No, Celeste whispers, the Second Rule:
Rule One: Be Kind
Rule Two: No More Latin.
There are bound to be more Rules, though we shall stop calling them Rules forthwith, for very good reasons that we haven't thought about yet.
Be sure we will.