November – From the Minister

I was recently given the gift of reuniting with some old friends that I worked with 20 years ago in Tacoma, WA, at a homeless shelter called Nativity House. This reunion brought back all sorts of memories of my time with the “guests” of Nativity House, and there is one in particular that has stayed with me.

One afternoon, I was busy helping to get lunch prepared when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to find Andy, a regular guest, standing behind me, quietly crying and desperately trying to stay on his feet. Andy was extremely drunk and, by the looks of him, had been for several days. I took one look at him and said quietly, “Come with me.”

I led him into our small chapel and sat down next to him, trying to figure out what to say, but before I could get a word out, Andy fell apart. In the dim light and deep stillness of that place, he wept as if his heart was breaking, and mine broke as I listened. We sat that way for a long time, close but not touching, through his tears and into the silence that followed.

Finally, Andy started talking. He told me how long he had been sober this time, what had happened to trigger this relapse, what he could remember of his behavior from the past few days, and how it all made him feel. He expressed remorse, disappointment, self-disgust, fear, anger and confusion—and deep, deep sorrow. When Andy was done speaking I asked if there was anything I could do for him. He grabbed my hands. “Say a prayer, Shay. Will you just pray with me?”

So I closed my eyes and prayed.

When I was done, I looked up to find Andy watching me. He said, through more tears, “Thank you. You’re truly an angel, come down to Earth. ” I blushed and smiled, shaking my head and muttering that I wasn’t any such thing. He squeezed my hands, looked directly into my eyes and said, “Don’t be embarrassed. You are an angel.”

And then he leaned in even closer to me and whispered, “It’s OK. I’m an angel, too.” It was a moment of pure grace; a gift given with no strings attached. “I’m an angel, too. ” With those four words, Andy reminded me of the light that resides within every single person, and proved that every encounter with another person—regardless of who is “giving” and who is “receiving” or who is in control—every encounter has the possibility of being mutually transformative. For me, that’s what balance is all about.

There is a balance to be found in humility and grace—the balance between acknowledging that we can’t do everything ourselves, and accepting that we, too, are beings who contain the spark of divinity within us. It is a great gift to come together with this community every Sunday morning and Wednesday evening and Third Thursday, to be given what I need to grow my soul from our time together; and I must remind myself that you need me to be present, as well. This covenant between us, this call to a relationship of commitment to each other, is a two-way street. This month, as we come together for worship and play, to share food and stories, in theme circles, grief groups, RE classes, committee meetings, let us be mindful of the balance between our giving and our receiving of the gifts of this community, and the grace that is found within those gifts.

- Shay MacKay