One of the most beautiful parts of the Second Liturgy is the community that has started to form. Recently, we were mentioned by blogger Nic Hartmann in his reflection of the polar vortex. We are thankful for his blog, and thoughts on the struggle of vulnerable people.
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Vulnerability, the Polar Vortex, and the Desert
Since the early part of the year, there has been so much chaos. First, the government shutdown put a lot of people- especially contract workers and hourly federal employees- in a great state of vulnerability and risk for financial ruin. Many people will be recovering from this shutdown for a long time.
And then there is winter.
At one point this winter, we had a wind chill of -61F.
-61 degrees Fahrenheit.
-52 degrees Celsius. Past the point where Celsius is a higher number than Fahrenheit.
93 degrees below the freezing temperature of water.
The coldest wind chill recorded in area history.
In around five weeks, we have had around 40 inches of snow, and our kids have missed part or all of a school day at least 10 times. There have been many kids in the school system who, as a result, haven’t been able to get their usual breakfasts and lunches (and sometimes even dinners), leading to a greater state of food insecurity. People without vehicles, trying to get to the bus for their jobs or appointments, have had to endure this cold weather- which was at one point described as “life-threatening”- on their feet.
Down the road at one of our state universities, a freshman died of hypothermia, trying to leave the hall where he’d been working. He was only 19 years old.
We’ve basically been told, at several times, to just not leave our house. While the worst has subsided for at least a week or so, it’s still snowing hard every few days, and it doesn’t seem over. It has been difficult to write about, because every time I’ve sat down to do so, it’s started over again.
I’ve been listening to The Second Liturgy podcast with Timm and Thaniel Wenger, and also reading books from the St. John the Compassionate Mission in Toronto. Hearing the stories of people at the Mission, and also reading about what they teach the world about Christlike love, I’ve often ended my listening or reading time with a sense of regret. There were times where people needed help with tasks to help the most vulnerable, such as filling food bags and making hot beverages at the local Neighborhood Association. There were times where I could have brought things. There were times where I’d been at work, wishing I was out on the ground helping people. And that was peppered with bigger structural thoughts. Why are there people who don’t have proper heat? Or enough food? Or enough clothing? And why aren’t we all stopping what we’re doing to take care of them? As important as all of the jobs of the world are, it felt like nothing was as important as making sure that everyone was warm, fed and safe during those times. And when it seemed like we all could be doing better, fighting the urge to wish everyone could do better is not an easy task.
Part of it is a structural issue. When a city floods- as ours has several times- people stop what they’re doing to sandbag, move things out of businesses, and make sure that people have what they need. But when there are snow days, we often think more about the free day we get, and the vulnerable often get overshadowed. For many children, that means no safe space to go during the day, no hot food, and no chance to be nurtured. For hourly school employees, such as paraprofessionals, daycare workers and substitute teachers, that’s a loss of income. We will help during a big catastrophe, but the little moments of struggle yield so much less attention. The dynamics of today’s society, with a focus on production, productivity and speed, don’t allow for us to stop what we’re doing and help in those small times.
Part of it is that the world of vulnerability is like a desert, and while a big crisis like a flood would be represented by a giant sandstorm, the little moments of crisis are more like the typical heat or cold of a desert. People often forget that, even though the sandstorm may be over, the desert is still a place of struggle and vulnerability. It’s either very hot or very cold, and resources are not always there. In one of the Mission’s books, Walking Humbly: The Holiness of the Poor, the desert is discussed as a place of mission, saying that “Orthodox mission is a calling to live a reality that most resembles the desert, the place where the prophets cried out, where Jesus was tempted, and where the desert fathers went to search to live. Healing, hope, poison, demons and snakes are all there, all the time, accompanying the Word, confirming the Word or trying to undo the Word. To be faithful to Christ is all that we are asked.”
In a space of vulnerability, we have one job: putting on Christ. The desert, in the text, is also described as a place of powerlessness and “as a place where one is vulnerable, and without consequence to anyone. In this sense, for us to be an Orthodox mission, is to try to live the same reality of the poor, who also are without power, and are marginalized, and don’t matter to anyone. Such is the place of the desert.” However, there is always growth somewhere in the desert. There are oases, shelters, and places of respite, albeit ones that might be far away from each other. And those who steward the resources can either deplete them to make them barren, or foster them in a way so that they continue to grow. According to the Mission, “Like poverty, this place can be transformed by Love and the Gospel, to a place of great spiritual freedom and joy.”
However, the only way to engage in such transformation is to focus on transforming ourselves. The Gospel lesson of the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, in which the despised tax collector is the one to beat his chest and ask for mercy out of a desire for change, makes that quite clear. Change starts within us, and each of us has a different role. Vulnerability is also individualized; one person’s level of vulnerability varies greatly from that of their neighbor. What one person is capable of doing to help vulnerable people, may be completely out of reach for another person. Each is given a specific talent to work with, and to use for the glory of God.
So as the winter continues to be difficult, I have to remind myself not to say “Lord, find some to help them.”
Instead, I have to say “Lord, if I can help them, have mercy on me; if someone else is better equipped for it, Thy will be done.”
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Make sure to follow more of Nic's reflections at his blog!
blog used with permission
.In this week's podcast, we continued our series on the pilgrimage to St. John the Compassionate Mission in Toronto, Ontario, by interviewing two Brothers of Mercy. These young men have dedicated at least a year of their lives to working in the community there.
(For more of a description of the role of a Brother of Mercy, check out the interview with Brothers Jonathan and Luke.)
They take a vow of simplicity in their life, meaning a purposeful separation from the world in order to come closer to the community and the people involved in the mission.
Unavailable to talk with us in the podcast was Brother David. We spent some time (off recording) to talk to and learn from him about what drew him to the mission. David is a 20-something from Colorado, who spent years searching for a young men’s discipleship house and community somewhere.
In his blog, The Poor, My Teachers, David describes the goal of his time in Toronto. He writes:"By poverty, I do not mean “serving the poor” only (though this has become my primary classroom this year at St Johns Mission, Toronto) but I have become a student of how to become 'poor in spirit'. I do this by recognizing my own ‘inner poverty’, brokenness, and limitations and how God can fill that place with his richness. It is a revelation to know the true riches of the Prince of Heaven… and of this, I still have lots to learn."
This recognition of inner humility is something that has resonated with us since we met him. In the ego-driven world that surround us, it's crucial that we understand the limitations and brokenness of our humanity.
"I knew I wanted to live in a tight-nit community who live with each other daily, not just at church services, and I wanted to learn how to serve the poor in love."
Serving the poor can mean helping those in financial need. We cannot forget that we are all spiritually poor, and need the community of the church for our salvation. Although the community we live in will most likely look different than the one that is modeled for us in Toronto, we are surrounded on Sunday (and the rest of the week) to be servants to the poor, in love.
St. John the Compassionate Mission
155 Broadview Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Listen to our podcast episode Give Me This Stranger (and more to come) for explanations of some of these photos.
St. Silouan the Athonite Orthodox Church
155 Broadview Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Listen to our podcast episode Holiness in Unconventional Ways for explanations of most of these photos.
St. John's Bakery
153 Broadview Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
St. John's Thrift Store
2155 Danforth Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
St. Zoticos Orthodox Church and Good Neighbours Drop-in
193 Markham Road, Scarborough, Ontario, Canada
Listen to our podcast episodes (coming soon) with Fr. Roberto and the Brothers of Mercy.