-- Edward Hopper, "Pennsylvania Coal Town," 1947
He sat down in my office, in the oversized jet-leather club chair, nestled by the literary bookshelf (across from the two shelves of bible and theology).
He was tired. His face showed the downturned use of some years of a low-rent, on and off again shop job, punctuated by a bimonthly visit to a smoke-hazed oldies bar just blocks away from his 1950s ranch-style home, where his dog awaited him, tail wagging, every late afternoon.
He is a refugee from all the old charismatic waves that washed over the Burgh since the early 70s. He's visited about every single phase of emotion and claimed every promise. He's made a lot of positive confessions that have not worked out, and so weary he's entered our old and open doors.
Now he's gotten into difficulty again, and that's real and very hard. We will have to help him through with real practical plans. Who will take care of his loyal dog, who will wait for him every afternoon for the month that he's away? Who will watch his family home, of which he is the last of, out-surviving his mom and dad and sister and brothers? Who will cut the grass and sweep the walk these incarcerated days?
He is amazingly gentle and kind, merciful to the gruff and uncompassionate peers that surround his daily schedule. He's been scuffed, worn and torn by a lot of hard knocks, but the bitter speech, so expected, doesn't show.
He wears a coat and tie to church, sometimes threadbare, but "I want to look my best for God" he says.
I hear his narration, and I want to denounce the powers and anyone else, but he heads me off with "Whatever happens now I'll take from the Lord, as something I need to receive."
So we practice the whitelight arts of the Jesus Prayer and the Trisagion, then. I talk to him about the Liturgy and the Holy Mysteries, and about the ecclesial rehearsals of Heaven on earth.
(It is especially at a moment like this that I take refuge in old-fashioned christology, when and in Whom divine nature might meet human nature, Personally. Christology is best done, I think, on the discarded streets of the world's refugees.)
We begin to speak in tongues of angels -- or rather, the tongues of the Word made flesh. "I can do all things through Christ Who strengtheneth me." "If God be for us who can be against us?" "Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world." "Perfect love casteth out all fear."
I swear to you all, upon the Altar and Heaven itself, that the air began to brighten at the iteration of these words. I felt the ebbing of the bleak tide.
He stood up after the prayer and smiled with a smile that the world thinks is unbecoming of the poor: but in the Kingdom, a smile such as this makes all the sense in the world.
Handshake, embrace of the meek.
He left, a small man, and I remained, just as small.
... for they shall inherit the earth.