Excerpt from Nearly Orthodox: on being a modern woman in an ancient tradition
When the homeless woman with the beautiful smile passed my car at the stoplight the first day on the way to school, Henry asked if I would give her money. It had been a long time since the thought had even crossed my mind. I had gotten into the habit of looking away; to ease my conscience, I’d pray silently for them, make mental notes to bolster my contributions to charities as I tried to looked busy, important, distracted. When Henry suggested it, I caught her eye, and she looked away but kept smiling. I took note of her clothing, her hair, and her cup, rattling as she passed his window, until the light changed and I could drive away.
Henry had asked me before about people who were homeless, and I would answer with my usual response that we should pray, that we don’t know their situation, that we shouldn’t judge. He asked if I thought we’d ever be homeless, and though I assured him that a lot would have to happen to find us in that situation, the question struck something, some homesickness, some homelessness I carried in me.
In the last thirty years I’ve moved fourteen times, sometimes to a new city, sometimes just to a new apartment or house. The process never becomes easier, even as I get better at house hunting, at packing, at finding places to put things. The newness wears off more quickly, the things that break in the process of moving are always surprising, the transition from one home to another is daunting.
In the last twenty years I have moved churches fourteen times, sometimes in a new city, sometimes just a new denomination or satellite location. The process never becomes easier, no matter how skilled I am at church hunting, at packing my theology and my quirks, at finding places to stand, sit, or kneel. The things that break in the process of moving churches are always surprising, always painful, always daunting, and the feeling of being poorly rooted, of being homeless, always seemed to hang overhead somehow. Having a sense of place has always felt transient and maybe dangerous, like building a house in the place of the devil wind, renaming that place Hospitality. Or like walking barefoot through town, being vulnerable, labeled crazy, and holding the sweet, sad smile that marks us forever as homeless, as needy, as hopeful.