Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things. Some sat in darkness and in gloom, prisoners in misery and in irons, for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High. Their hearts were bowed down with hard labor; they fell down, with no one to help. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress; he brought them out of darkness and gloom, and broke their bonds asunder. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. For he shatters the doors of bronze, and cuts in two the bars of iron.
Today I was in room where people typically gather to receive basic food supplies. Usually there are approximately 75 people in the room. The Hall is in the basement, which means there is not a lot of air circulation. People who come to this place for more than food, they also are looking for community. But the primary rational to be in this space at this time is food. The consensus in this country in dealing with poverty is to make being poor really hard and really impossible. The amount of money people on social assistance receive does not come close to covering real costs of housing, food and other basic necessities. So to make ends meet people go to foodbanks, it allows them to spend some of their food money on their rent or medications.
This is a desperate way to live. And it is by design. We as taxpayers can complain about this system but we as voters permit it, there is no penalty to be a politician and support this system. Quite the opposite, any politician that support helping the poor is often in political trouble. That’s why the most popular issue in every election in Canada is spending money on health care. Middle class seniors vote and they determine who forms the government. Thus poverty, unless it involves middle class seniors, is not a serious political issue in this country. If it were things would change.
So when people show up in these Halls or rooms waiting for their basic food to be delivered there can be anxiety, sadness, and anger. It only takes a spark and this energy can ripple throughout the room. On the other hand when someone says something at the microphone that is touching or affirmative or kind those feelings of desperation and fear are mitigated, at least for the moment.
I remarked to a volunteer today that the gathered community was calm, in a sleepy mood. I reminded him that there are days when the atmosphere is tense, angry and volatile. He agreed. Then he responded, “When there is desperation in the air it is hard to know what to do, what to say.”
I have been sitting with those words all day. What do we do with the spirit of desperation? Of course desperation is not limited to poverty, people living with mental illness feel desperate, so do those in difficult relationships, those in grief, those losing their jobs, their anxious about any number of things. How do we as people of faith respond to the spirit of desperation?
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town.
Even for a moment we can take people to a safe place. It is not necessarily a permanent solution, perhaps it is a bandaid, but when we are desperate and someone can take us to higher ground we can regain our footing, our perspective, and see things in a new way. This is NOT an excuse for a litany of advice-giving, “you shoulds” or using your own example as the be all and end all “well you know when that happened to me I…” Taking people to the “inhabited town” can mean helping them find community, connection, asking about when and how they feel part of something and then brain-storming about how to get there.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress; he brought them out of darkness and gloom, and broke their bonds asunder.
There is a cathartic experience that occurs when someone can name their “trouble”. Often when someone can articulate what is their gloom and later what is their higher ground the pathway can become more visible. Of course in many situations there is no pathway; a terminal illness, a long-term diagnosis, a troubled relation, but that higher ground can be at least found in a healthy coping space, a mitigating experience that helps with healing in the midst of pain. My approach to the pain of others is never to be Pollyanna or an advice-giver but rather to give space for the expression of pain and then to ask how the other plans to deal with it. Along the way I can help facilitate the pieces of that journey but the direction and destination have to belong to the other.
It’s a long journey, this life of ours. But in another sense it is a short and fragile life. Making sense of this experience with the aid of others around us can help us know what is causing the desperation and what we need to find higher ground.