The following reflection was written by Amy Malick. Amy is a member of Canterbury, co-facilitator of Canterbury's "Activate" Team (Social Justice, Action, and Reflection Team), and the Missioner to the Displaced for the Diocese of the Rio Grande.
“Darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike.” Psalm 139:11
One midnight, I watched a tiny, bent old woman walk down a sidewalk into the darkness in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco. Where she goes, I follow.
I was in the city a few weeks ago for a retreat with people around the country who provide spiritual companioning and community building with people experiencing homelessness.
This night, a group of us accompanied a pastor who walks the streets of the Tenderloin from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. to be alongside people who are outside. As he explained in the orientation, they include sex workers, drug dealers and addicts, and also, people who are lonely, who work nights, insomniacs who live in the many apartment buildings in the poor neighborhood.
Night Ministry has walked these streets 365 nights a year for 52 years. Google it. The pastors sit at bars and donut shops, on stoops and streets littered with the detritus of the poor: fast food wrappers, dirty clothes, cigarette butts. They listen. They refer. They call for help. Our guide knew many of the characters we came across.
The old woman caught my eye when our group had stopped to witness two young women involved in an altercation with a man. In the noisy confusion, the old woman passed like a shadow, navigating the crowd, weaving through people on the street until the darkness swallowed her small form.
If anyone else saw her, no one paid her any mind.
I knew then, and I’ve come to know even more as time has passed, that the woman was Jesus in a distressing disguise. As I’ve learned from teachers I admire – Richard Rohr, Megan McKenna, Mother Theresa – God hides in our world in the poor and hungry, the sick and lonely, the people who sleep on mean streets. In tiny, bent old women who weave down grimy sidewalks, calling us by name.
I could never have imagined the enormity of darkness that’s become apparent in our country since the presidential election. I could never have guessed at the time that God would come to me that night, so quietly, so gently, to show me who I am, to show me the way.
I’ve always wondered whether I would have fallen in with the millions of God-fearing Germans who saw Hitler as the answer to their loss of livelihood and control after World War I. I feared I would not have risked my life to protect the people rounded up and killed in the “cleansing” that followed.
Now I know.
So much in my life and my work is in transition, as I watch the world becomes a meaner place. My own 7-year-old grandson fears the “American wall” will kill rivers and plants. My hair dresser’s 6-year-old, whose father is Latino, held out his little hands the morning after the election and asked his mama if he is black. When she said no, he asked if he and papa would be taken away. A 7-year-old knows that walls kill. A 6-year-old knows it’s dangerous here to be brown or black.
I will not be afraid. I will not despair. I take the hand of my guide, and into the darkness, where she goes, I follow