Houses of the Holy

The following is adapted from a chapter of my book: Coming Home for Good.

 

“A tramp, a gentleman, a poet, a dreamer, a lonely fellow, always hopeful of romance and adventure.”  – Charlie Chaplin, describing himself

 

In Buxted, where I grew up, there were a couple of tramps we saw from time to time. I guess these guys suffered with a mental health disorder, or autism, and didn’t fit neatly into mainstream society. They seemed to wander through, sporadically, like ragged spirits. I’ve no idea why they’d turn up every so often, pacing along the main road, or where they’d been in the meantime. As a child I never thought about it.

Perhaps, like many homeless people today, there was trauma or tragedy behind their lives on the move.

But there’s also an ancient association between itinerancy and spirituality, a travelling lifestyle serving as a useful means for the widespread distribution of a pastor’s, preacher’s or prophet’s message, especially before the days of electronic or even postal communication. A far more personal touch.

Itinerant ministry has been closely linked with religious asceticism, with the practice of travelling light and dependence on divine provision. The idea of moving about with little more than trust in God played a part in my own journey to faith, as I became increasingly curious to test out whether “God”, if he was there, would provide on my travels when I had nothing but the shirt on my back.

Travelling ministry, in Christian traditions, is characterised by intentional dependence on human hospitality, opening the way for those heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul connections in people’s homes, those “being with”s, that are so close to God’s heart for his children.

It’s therefore not surprising that Jesus chose homelessness, not out of any psychological damage or disconnection like me; rather, to forge those human/human, human/divine connections and bring healing to his hosts’ psychological dysfunctionality and physical brokenness.

Nor is it surprising that he sent his disciples out on the same kind of missions to bring healing and wholeness.

Man connecting with man. God connecting with man.

People becoming reconnected with themselves by connecting with God.

Jesus chose homelessness also because he sided with the marginalised, the weak, the despised, the poor, the “sinners”. He chose a lifestyle that would demonstrate solidarity with them.

“The son of man has nowhere to lay his head.”

His mother’s accounts of his homeless birth must have echoed prophetically in his head as he figured out his Father’s calling to live a life of identification with the poor.

And, as he went about his transient ministry, he searched out people, mostly the kinds excluded by the religious authorities of his day, who would take him into their homes to share a meal, benefitting both them and him. He created those mutual “being with”s, not always even waiting to be invited.

Like the time he invited himself to the house of the notorious tax-collector Zaccheus, creating a scene of celebration and forgiveness, much to the disgust of the shocked religious onlookers.

This was the equivalent of Jesus today celebrating with Pride revellers in full view of a crowd of American fundamentalists.

Jesus felt at home in other people’s homes. By moving about and entering the houses of the poor, eating, talking and praying with them, he gave them a sense of acceptance and worth and dignity – bringing healing to bodies, minds, human divisions and disconnections.

In so doing Jesus created a homecoming for both him and them.

I believe he still does that, his life on earth reflecting the eternal God – the itinerant Spirit who searches out hearts to make a home in and turns ordinary people into houses of the holy [1].

I learned early on in this spiritual journey that if we want to see God, a good place to start looking is in the faces of the poor.

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I learned early on in this spiritual journey that if we want to see God, a good place to start looking is in the faces of the poor.

 

The Jewish prophets of long ago, like Solomon and Isaiah, and Christian apostles like James and John, not to mention Jesus himself [2], all concurred that if we mock the poor or ignore their plight, if we fail to take care of the needs of the broken, the rejected, the vulnerable, then we mock or ignore God, and all our worship services are useless.

Just as Isaiah describes those who are homeless, hungry or destitute as our own flesh and blood, Jesus similarly identifies them as his brothers and sisters and even his representatives. Whatever we do to them – help or ignore – we do to him.

As I delved into the Christians’ book, I discovered almost from the start the Bible’s claims that if we want to know God’s identity, then we need to look into the faces of those who are crying out for our help – these houses of the holy – often a silent cry from deep within their hearts, but which can be heard by those with a trace of human empathy and compassion.

There is so much to love about Christian spirituality – that challenges the complacency of the rich and powerful and lends dignity to those who are materially or spiritually poor.

***

Some questions for reflection:

  • Who would you find it difficult to hang out with? What would happen if you did? What might you learn from them?
  • How easy do you find it to “be” with people?
  • Who might you connect with this week?
  • What place do “the poor” have in your faith, spirituality or worldview?
  • How, if at all, does this kind of spirituality influence your political persuasions?

***

Coming Home for Good is autobiographical, using examples of personal life experience to discuss “physical, psychological and spiritual homelessness”, and to reflect on identity, individuality, addiction and belonging – which, while especially pertinent in the context of homelessness, are issues that affect everyone.

Coming Home for Good is available on Amazon, at just £8. Find out more here, or click on the picture below:

Coming Home for Good

[1] A nod to Led Zeppelin, Houses of the Holy (album), Atlantic, 1973.

[2] For example: Proverbs 17:5; Isaiah 58:6-12; James 1:27; Matthew 25:31-46.

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