Ann Lamott repeats a Hasidic story about a rabbi who tells people that if they studied Torah, it would put scripture on their hearts. A student asks the rabbi, “Why on our hearts, and not in them?” The rabbi answered, “Only God can put scripture inside. But reading sacred texts can put it on your hearts, and then when your heart breaks, the holy words will fall inside.”
If we encounter Jesus in “the least of these” then I think that journeying in love relationships with marginalised people is something like putting Jesus on our hearts. Yet such relationships, when they are genuine, cannot help but lead us to a place of broken-heartedness. A place of crying out to God. When we love such people with a real love, then our hearts will break and Jesus will also be in our hearts.
(In the same way if we are also to be Jesus to these people then when their hearts are broken we have the chance that we’ll fall into the holes — that Jesus will fall into the holes — instead of the other shit that people force into their hearts just to stay alive.)
Billy Graham, you got it wrong. You don’t get Jesus in your heart by saying a pithy prayer. You get Jesus in your heart by journeying with his precious ones — the crucified people of today.
Leslie is a sweetheart. There is a softness to her, a gentleness in her words and in the way that she looks at you. She’s the kind of kid that you want to hug, the kind of kid you want to take under your wing and say, “It’s okay, you don’t have to be strong anymore. Rest now. Play now. We’ll be strong for you.”
Leslie has cerebral palsy and a learning disability. Sometimes it takes her a while to learn things and she falls down more often than most people.
Oh, and Leslie’s mom started selling her into the sex trade when she was just a little girl — not that she’s much bigger now.
Ever since she moved into our program we’ve been worried about the men that Leslie’s been hanging around with. We’ve talked with her about being safe, about setting up boundaries, about trying to avoid places where she might get trapped. I had a good chat with her the other day. She says the guys she hangs with continually offer her drugs for sex — and maybe there was a time in her past when she would of done that — but she respects herself too much to consider the offer. She refuses and she likes the way that makes her feel about herself.
And then one night Leslie didn’t come home. I sat at the desk all night long hoping she would come in… but she didn’t. She came in the following evening flying high and totally wrecked. She was crying and trying to get money out of her savings. Staff refused to give her money and she fled. One of the RAs found her curled up in the back alley in the fetal position. It turns out that a some of the guys she was hanging with had dragged her into an alley, forced a bunch of pills down her throat and then ripped her pants off. They were grabbing at her and…
She’s rocking as she tells her story and she flinches every time a guy walks by. Now she can’t eat, she can’t sleep, and she can’t stop crying.
“I feel empty. I feel like I’m dead. And then sometimes I feel so angry… I’ve started cutting myself again — I hadn’t done that for a year and a half.”
Leslie is one of my kids, she’s one of my people, and I love her. I don’t give a fuck about what kind of special relationship you think you have with your god — if you’re not concretely journeying in love relationships with people like Leslie then I’m half inclined to say your faith is bullshit. But maybe that’s just me lashing out because my friends are getting gang raped on a pretty regular basis.
Ann Lamott tells a story about A.J. Muste in her book Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith. A.J. Muste used to stand in front of the White House during the Vietnam War. He would go, night after night, rain or shine, and stand with a single lit candle. One night he was asked, “Mr. Muste, do you really think you are going to change the policies of this country by standing out here alone at night with a candle?” He replied, “I don’t do it to change the country, I do it so the country doesn’t change me.”
Listening to Leslie makes me think of Mr. Muste. I am not listening to her because I think I can save her — I wasn’t there in the alley when they forced her down onto the ground all covered in “piss and shitty garbage.” I wasn’t there when they tore at her clothes and her body. I suppose that god was there bleeding and crying and feeling helpless along with her — so I’ll do the same now. We may not be able to save each other but perhaps being together will give us the strength we need as we wait for God’s salvific action.
So I’ll hold my candle, and I’ll smile and try to look brave when you come by and tell me what a wonderful thing I’m doing — before you drive away.
I’m not trying to give my life meaning
by demeaning you
and I would like to state for the record
I did everything that I could do
I’m not saying that I’m a saint
I just don’t want to live that way
no, I will never be a saint
but I will always say
squint your eyes and look closer
I’m not between you and your ambition
I am a poster girl with no poster
I am thirty-two flavors and then some
and I’m beyond your peripheral vision
so you might want to turn your head
cause someday you might find you’re starving
and eating all of the words you said
~ Ani DiFranco