This post is by Christiane Swartz who is an elder in the Geyserville Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the congregation I serve. She is a social worker for the Veterans Administration, a student at Pacific School of Religion, and our seminarian. I was away this Labor Day Sunday and she preached.
Here I Am
When we’re called.
When we’ve made mistakes
or been disappointed and
retreated into ourselves
and our every breath is dedicated to
creating Ordinary Days in which
When on an Ordinary Day
in spite of our fears
or doubts or insecurities, in spite of being
absolutely convinced that we are invisible
we are open to the possibility
that perhaps that voice we hear
is God calling us to show up and for some reason
What if God really is with us?
That when we are open to showing
up and answering, “Here I am,”
no matter our perceived lack
of worthiness, no matter our certainty
that God must really mean
the person behind us
that we change lives?
God being with us —
is the same
as God being in that burning bush
in that it takes the ordinary
and makes us
In my capacity as social worker for the VA housing program, I met a veteran last month who lives in a tent in the woods who had buckets filled with heart shaped rocks which he collects. I mentioned that my daughter also collects them and he gave me a huge heart shaped rock at the end of our visit.
I picked him up last Friday to take him to see an apartment and make a plan for him to move in. When I went to find him (at a market near his camp), the store clerk indicated that she had not seen him and did not want to, that he was “bad news.” During our drive together, I asked him about his relationship with (previously friendly) store clerks. At this point, he erupted into a loud angry outburst. He spent most of the entire two hours focused on the woman at the store. He swore angrily and loudly referred to her by using vulgar names, to the point I asked him to stop. He had been homeless for years, and was literally on the verge of having a roof over his head during a week that the temperatures are reaching triple digits. And yet, all he could do was vent to me about this woman, insistently telling the painfully detailed 10 year history of their problem together and making not so vague references to the bodily violence he believed she so justly deserved. I began to have concerns about being in the car with him, and about the safety of the woman at the store. He even asked me to accompany him there while he confronted her and when I declined seemed genuinely surprised and annoyed, wondering aloud if I was actually going to be useful for anything. I wrapped up our business as quickly as possible and drove back, looking very forward to dropping him off. During the drive back he continued to vent, punctuating his thoughts with random comments about how he could never do my job because he was too jaded, that he had a whole list of people he would kill one day if he discovered he only had days to live, and that he really liked me and did I already have a husband! I managed to ignore most of that. I tried not to roll my eyes. I said a silent prayer of thanks for it being Friday. I tried not to feel scared. I assured him if he confronted this woman and went to jail I could not save his apartment for him, and strongly encouraged him to keep it together for a week. I wondered aloud if he could try to focus on housing, letting the others go and finding the peace he deserved. He turned to me, in that moment looking both five years old and a hundred years old, and said plaintively, “I CAN’T EVEN IMAGINE WHAT PEACE WOULD LOOK LIKE.”
In my 20 years as a social worker I don’t even have a frame of reference for what happened next. We drove to the river onto a tiny dead end trail that was his “street.” And there was a strange man crouched down at the site. My vet muttered angrily, “what the hell is going on here?” The hair on the back of my neck stood up. This is it, I thought to myself. We’re all going to die. My vet shouted across me through my window to the man, “Who are you? What are you doing with my things?” I held my breath. The only way out of this was to floor it in reverse and I wasn’t quite ready to do that yet. And something weird was clearly happening. The man did not respond at all. Like we weren’t there. He appeared homeless. He was sweating and out of breath. He lingered over a strange arrangement consisting of a tire, two buckets, broken bicycle, old milk jug and …a mountain of heart shaped rocks with leaves arranged on top. “What are you DOING?” the vet next to me asked again. I thought the vein in his head would pop.
The man finally stood up. “Art,” he replied. I’m still not convinced we are not all going to die. My vet is beside himself. But the answer stopped him short.
The man added, “I’m exercising, you know, doing laps. I’m resting in between, and I make art.” He seemed completely unaware that his ‘art’ was the entirety of my veteran’s belongings, that he should not have been there, or that he might actually be in serious danger of bodily harm. In fact, he was completely unbothered by my veteran’s level of agitation. I’m not even sure he noticed. In his sweats and tee shirt and beard, dripping sweat from head to toe, he was the absolute living picture of… peace. He went around to the passenger side of the car. I held my breath. Something made my veteran introduce himself. The man stuck out a shy hand and said “my name is Bob. Bob Hart.”
In that moment I saw my vet soften and something in him transformed completely. He looked at me incredulously. I handed a bottle of water to Bob and he wandered back over to his “art.” As my vet got out of the car, he said to me, “That was GOD. …God sent that man to show me PEACE.”
I left them chatting amicably together like old friends.
The thing is, God called that day. He called me. He called my veteran. He called Bob and his heart. On an ordinary Friday, while we were all hiding, doing ordinary things, probably letting past mistakes or failures or fears influence what we each thought we had to offer that day. So, what if God calls us more often than we know? What if God really is with us? That when we are open to showing up and answering, “Here I am,” that we change lives. What if God being with us is the same as God being in that burning bush, in that it takes the ordinary and makes it… extraordinary?