"The houseless community is a vital part of the Interfaith Community. Over the years, we have learned the wisdom of simplicity from our friends in the streets. We are pleased to share their wisdom, courage, and creativity with you. The names and locations of the various individuals have been changed for their safety and anonymity. The people involved in these reflections asked for nothing but the opportunity to be heard, and we are grateful for their sharing. The Interfaith Peace Project is blessed and humbled to have these courageous people as our mentors, guides, and friends.
From my point of view, no label, no slogan, no party, no skin color, and indeed, no religion is more important than the human being."
- James Baldwin
THE WISDOM OF AGNES
'the drumbeat of life'
The drumbeat reminds us of the heartbeat of life surging within everything that lives. Everything, visible or invisible, has its own unique heartbeat. Everything blesses us with the energy of its self-giving. If I behold a flower, hear the chirp of a bird, or encounter the majesty of a mountain, I am touched by the heartbeat of their generous self-giving.
Agnes can often be found beating on her drum under a palm tree on Market Street in San Francisco. While she has no permanent housing, she is very much at home in the World as it is. She does not ask for anything. She blesses the streets with her majestic drum. Her music comes from her heart. I once heard her say to a person who stopped to hear the music:
Life is like a river
I do not resist it
I go with its flow.
The river takes me places
I might not otherwise go.
I am free
Free to be myself
I am not afraid of losing anything
I have nothing
But the river flowing in my heart.
The river is like life
It takes me places
I might not otherwise see
I meet people
I might not otherwise meet.
I am free to love
Please find your river
Jump in deep and wet
Let go of all your fears.
Sense the river of life flowing through your heart. Today pledge to enter into the river of your life. Let your heartbeat be the compass of your soul. Hear the sacred heartbeat of the Universe. Feel how It beats within you with delight. Let it be your joy, your peace, your friend. Seek to hear the music of another person’s heart.
they have something to teach us
THE WISDOM OF SAM
'gratitude is indeed the attitude'
Sam walked with an air of sophistication. He held his head upright, alert to the people around him. He had a rugged look as he seized the day with his gentle smile and calming presence. He is reminiscent of someone on the verge of finding something wonderful. Sam enfleshed the wise teaching, “Seek, and you shall find.”
I met Sam in the Cathedral Plaza in downtown Oakland, California. He was searching through a garbage can, looking for something to eat. Before I could offer him some money, he found some half-eaten bread. He caught my eye before I had a chance to look away. I did not want to embarrass him. His eyes pierced into my soul, and he said in a calm, quiet, peaceful voice, “May I share this bread with you?” I was stunned. I smiled and declined to my regret. As I began to walk away, I heard him praying as he blessed himself and his food. He gave thanks to his God for some daily bread. As Sam gave thanks for his bread, I gave thanks for Sam.
Today I will open my eyes to the World around me. I might look deep into my heart seeking to discover some treasure. I might look deep into the soul of another seeking to find a friend. I pledge not to be afraid of the graciousness of others. I will be grateful for the gift of life, the gift of my life. Today I will seek to practice gratitude in all my affairs. I will be inspired by the examples of gratitude touching my heart.
THE WISDOM OF MARK
'the splendor of generosity'
Mark lives in the shelter provided for those without a place to live. But, as the story goes, Mark was blessed with a small bag of potato chips at lunch one day. You would have thought Mark won the lottery. He looked at the bag of potato chips as if it were the most precious thing in the World.
Bolting out the door, Mark began yelling, “Beverly! Beverly!” as loudly as he could. People on the street were startled, but Mark was relentless in his pursuit. He ran right into me, asking if I had seen his Beverly. As the drama unfolded, a lovely lady began to yell, “Mark!” They ran into the arms of one another. They embraced and rejoiced. I almost burst into song. He wanted to give her the bag of potato chips because he knew she liked them.
Imagine he who has nowhere to live gives away what he believes will bless another.
Today I will visit the Sanctuary of my Heart. I will go there with reverence and respect. I will claim the gut-feelings of my wisdom. The gift of my Heart longs to give of itself. I pledge not to be an obstacle to myself. Like water poured out, I will give of myself.
THE WISDOM OF RICHARD
Richard rejoiced in finding some dry cardboard he used as his bed in an abandoned storefront on Geary Street in San Francisco. He made sure he used the discarded materials of other people with care, respect, and gratitude. He always cleaned up after himself. You could see his dignity in his face. He was gentle and kind. Richard is deeply wounded by life.
I was passing by on my way to nowhere in particular. Richard stopped me, asking if I had a minute. He invited me to have tea with him in his doorway accommodations. He said the cardboard was fresh, clean, and dry.
As I sipped the tea, he recited some verses he had composed about a tree he loves. Richard was a former Professor of English Literature who somehow lost his job and now lives on the streets. I was transported by his words and transformed by his kindness. So I became his student, humbly attending the University of Life.
A lovely old tree once sheltered me
A lovely old tree once gave its leaves to me
A lovely old tree once delighted me
Thus did that lovely old tree love me.
- Richard of Geary Street
THE WISDOM OF DAVID
'no one should suffer'
David is an extraordinary young man. A man of deep passion whose heart is broken daily by the suffering of others. He becomes overwhelmed when he hears of cruelty. David is a gentle soul who is often alone in his grief and anguish. I met David several years ago. His mother introduced us. He was struggling, and she thought we should get to know one another. David and I became good friends. We spent long hours musing on the meaning of life and the situation of the World. David was everything. A young man of remarkable talent and ability. One minute he was a poet, then an artist. He loves to write and sing. However, he could not hold on to a job or settle down. He finds it impossible to be at peace. One day he said there was too much suffering in the World. He cried, “It ought not to be this way. People deserve better. I love them. Why should I have anything when so many people have nothing?” The Doctors now say David has emotional and psychological problems. Perhaps, but his heart is simply beautiful. He loves those who are hated. He even loves those who hate themselves. David is a great blessing to me, and I hope to you.
Whom shall I love today?
THE WISDOM OF JEFFREY
'he had no name'
Walking the streets is a wonderful way to practice interfaith love and understanding. The people you meet can touch your heart and change your life. In this age of gun violence, it is more important than ever to encounter people in deep and personal ways.
Jeffery is the name I gave to a young man I met while walking down the street. He never spoke but his presence touched my soul. I have never been the same.
As I was walking, I suddenly saw Jeffery walking straight toward me. He was gentle, broken, like a small bird who fell from a branch. I had the feeling we were destined to meet. I sensed the Universe was calling us to this moment. I quietly stopped as we faced one another. Jeffery lowered his head to my chest and cried. I held him for a moment or two as the crowds around us became quiet in this sanctuary of grief and sorrow. His tears were the tears of all those who are hurting in the World. I was immersed in the broken hearts of those who suffer cruelty and injustice. Jeffery is the incarnation of their tears.
After a few moments, Jeffery faintly smiled and went on his way without a word. He reminds us to stop and weep, to allow our hearts to be broken.
Explore what breaks your heart. Your tears are your love. Embrace your capacity and willingness to be broken-hearted over the sorrows and hurts of others. Hold someone who weeps in your heart if not your arms. Invite someone to hold you.
THE WISDOM OF KATHERINE
Katherine was a loving grandmother, mother, sister, great-grandmother, and uncompromising peace activist. She worked for justice and peace every day of her life. She was not afraid to confront family, friends, or strangers to advocate for justice, work for peace, and love everyone with the intensity of her heart.
She challenged me to reengage in my interfaith work when I arrived back in California. Let me be more honest, she demanded I reengage no matter the consequences. She always demanded people strive for their excellence.
She was always protesting against the establishment. She raised her children to be people of justice, peace, and love. Her home was a refuge for the hungry, a haven for the poor, a sanctuary of welcome.
She loved to be arrested. She said it gave her an opportunity to comfort other prisoners as she instructed the corrections officers in the fine art of compassion and care for those in their charge.
As her senses dulled and life became more difficult, she struggled to support all those who committed to the cause of justice and the way of peace. She lived every moment of her life for the well-being of others.
Katherine loved to pray, worship, and sign. She had a priestly heart. The sanctuary and the street intersected in her heart. She saw the wounded heart of the Divine in the poor and those who are the victim of injustice.
God, for Katherine, is to be found in the sanctuary of the streets. Paradise is where your heart is.
Today I will bless my home as a sanctuary of welcome.
Today I will bless my heart as a sanctuary of loving concern for others.
Today I will bless my soul as a sanctuary of peace.
Every night before I sleep, I will gently bless the World.