Poverty

Some days, a phrase or sentence in my daily scripture reading jumps out as if the letters were bold.

This morning, the scripture reading in my prayer book was from the second book of Kings, chapter 24, a story about rival kings. And then the words in verse 14 caught my attention, like sunlight shimmering on the ocean. I read and then reread: “None were left among the people of the land except the poor.”

An image flitted through my mind of a land where only poor people were left, a land devoid of “craftsmen and smiths;” all the skilled labor was gone.

And then the landscape of my own life came to mind.

I rely on my talents and abilities to define my life. I think of myself mainly in terms of what I can do, what I produce. But verse 14 asked me: what if that was all gone? What if I only had my poverty?

And then a memory popped into my mind of the time just after I left l’Arche. My time in l’Arche had been extremely difficult. I was crushed by the experience and bereft when I left. Too proud to return to Philadelphia and admit my failure, I sought refuge in a nearby Benedictine monastery. Psalm 86 became my prayer: “Help me Lord for I am poor and needy.”

And the Lord helped me. I was invited to move into one of the homes of a small, intentional community. Emotionally spent and without a work visa, I was dependent on the generosity of these strangers who welcomed me and accepted me as I was. I was too broken, exhausted and defeated to contribute much to the community.

One of the women in the community was a stay-at-home mom, and I spent hours sitting at her kitchen table, staring into space. Licking my wounds was my main activity in those early days. After a while, though, I started to heal. I realized that here, in this community, in my non-productive state, I was accepted and loved. Here I was accepted for just being.

Doing was the only way I had known, and it was a major part of my problem in l’Arche—just being seemed beyond me; I had to be about the business of doing. I am a Martha! Post-l’Arche, I became more like Mary.

Gradually, this small group of people, banded together to live Matthew’s command to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and welcome the homeless was loving me back into life. They helped me see the gift of my poverty, to see the truth—that all I really have and all I really need is God. The rest—my talents and skills—are the gifts God has given me to tell the story of my poverty.

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