Slipstream

Isaiah 58: 9-12

9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will
answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say,
here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking
of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched
place,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water
whose waters never fail.
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt,
you shall raise of the foundations of
many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the
breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

The pain of this world can be suffocating. The enormity of the problems we face in our world, and in our own lives, can paralyze. I’m not known for my stoicism. Instead, I tend to fall apart. Of my own power, I am emotionally vulnerable, frail and chronically overwrought. Change is upending. Worry is constant. Life is a crisis in the midst of an emergency and Doom peers around the corners, smacking his lips at my impending demise. My daily survival is dependent upon an astonishing, humbling and complex network of support without which Doom would have long ago snatched me by the ankle and dragged me into his cavernous, grinding mouth. My life is a miracle, constantly unfolding, a step by trembling step journey of heart-born, hard-won faith that is, itself, an act of faith.

So, Saturday morning, when I got the text saying Shawn was sick and would not be coming, Shawn who has the tables, the silverware, the plates and the bowls, Shawn who was bringing sandwiches and bottled water, Shawn who is there every Saturday to help set-up and serve and fellowship, Shawn was not coming. It was time to fall apart.

I was still in bed. I braced my mental hands against my mental walls and waited for the shaking to begin, the earthquake that starts at the pit of the stomach and rattles my skeleton like a summoning chime at the gate of Doom’s blood-filled jaws. My vision swirled. A feature of my panic is overwhelming dizziness that drops me to the ground where I stand. Luckily, I was still laying down. I gripped the edge of the mattress against the swirl in my head and thought, “I better call Mother Kathleen.”

Then another feature of my anxiety rose up. The prickling claws of self Doubt came crawling stealthily up my nerves, clattering his needle-like teeth as he crept. No decision seemed right. My judgement was not to be trusted. Doubt, having crept up to my core, rose above me and opened up his heavy sack. A rain of questioned thoughts came down, hit the lip of my swirl of panic, and went round tornado-style raking out a hollow pit inside of me that immediately filled with the tidal sweep of sick. I was Sick.

Sick. The broad-shoulder, bashing beast that presses my chest like a heart attack. Sick. Who comes through the door without knocking, punches through without turning the knob, a dark wall with a featureless face that swallows all light and all vision. Sick. He pressed through my door and lay his suffocating weight down on me like a blanket. The back of me pressed down, down. I held my breath like a swimmer heading for deep water and closed my eyes.

Then the miracle happened. Something behind me opened and I fell in. The water all around me shifted and I breathed it into me, filling with something utterly foreign, a fairy tale thing told about in story books, something made of glittering pixie dust that dances in the sparkle of sunlight. Peace. Peace came and opened some secret door. Under a leaf, behind a knothole, obscured by a shadow was the threshold to the magical place of God’s slipstream. I entered, and became an observer of miracles to come.

I could tell you about the texts and emails and all the things that brought together all the people and all the food which ended up on plates and all of the tables that ended up underneath it, but I was more of a distant observer in all of that. In the slipstream, I flowed along. Like rafting a shaded, lazy river from my place of Peace, in the slipstream, I watched the world roll by. Arms came. They wrapped around me. The voices of friends. Busy hands shifted around bowls full of color. All around, through the breaks in the trees, glittered eyes and smiles and the faces of friends. Like so many times before, once the meal began my purpose was clear and a sanctuary of an hour was swept clean and filled with the fellowship of love and health and community. I was home.

Sitting near the table, slumped on the curb, was a young man I had not seen for months. I fluttered through the pages of my memories for his face. I remembered. He was the odd young man I had given an ice cream cone back in the days when we still served such things. It was right after the Love Overwhelming shelter had closed. We had been bringing food to the courtyard to support the displaced people who had been further displaced by the shelter’s close. This young man had been there.

He was engaged, that day, in the oddest kind of dance. His body rigid, he swirled. Pointing, high stepping, freezing in place, his face would grimace, his eyes lock, and his mouth fall open to the sky or ground. I had never seen anything like it. I wasn’t sure what to do. I was making sandwiches on a bench and dishing up ice cream. He was there. He was probably hungry.

My son had the answer. “I’ll go ask him if he wants a sandwich!” Let’s wait, I advised, until there is a sandwich. I didn’t want this young man, who was obviously very lightly linked to this plane, to hear “sandwich” and expect one to be there right at that moment only then to find it absent. “I’ll make a sandwich first, then we will ask.”

He accepted my sandwich. He accepted my ice cream; and, each, in turn, joined him in his dance. And, each, in turn, was neatly and purposefully and astoundingly eaten in spite of his deep engagement in a world I could not see. And from that world, as I handed him each, had come a polite, grateful, and clearly spoken, “Thank you.”

After months of absence, here he was. He was still, staring at the ground, and I recognized the distant look in his eyes. I didn’t imagine he was going to be lining up for food. I stooped next to him.

“Hi,” I smiled, “I remember you. It’s been a long time. Remind me of your name?”

His face rose and he met my eyes. There was a flash of clarity, of connectedness as he said, “Arthur,” then turning his head to the side, he dissolved into laughter. I waited a minute then asked, “Are you hungry? Would you like me to get you something to eat?” His response was a thunder roll of laughs with knee slaps clapping like lightning in between. He was gone in a world I could not see. I paused for a moment, listening to his laughing, watching as he retreated to a place outside of this place. I would hand him a bowl of stew. Maybe he would eat it.

He did. Like with the sandwiches, he received my gift though a moment of clarity. A mental hand brushed the curtain from in front of his eyes and he peered out from behind it, out of his private world, and looked at me. “Thank you.”

As he ate his stew, I made him a plate. I felt a frantic rush to prepare it. This young man, from some magical place, could magically vanish like a sprite. Now you see him, now you don’t. This fairy tale man in his fairy tale mind might be a flicker in the corner of my eye, a laugh that comes from behind a shimmering leaf, a was-it-really-there wonder that sometimes appears in the moss and the mushrooms at the base of a tree, just for a moment, before it is lost again into the world of imagination. I wanted to be sure to feed him before he was gone.

I returned to him with a plate of food and a bag of snacks. Watching him, it was hard to tell what he could see and what he couldn’t. He recognized a boiled egg. He ate it with only half the shell removed. I showed him the salt and pepper packets. He laughed as he chewed on the shells. I peeled the other egg for him and salted it, then put a few more in his bag.

“Look!” I said, “Snap peas! Do you know what these are? Would you like to try one?” The curtain parted, “No.” I reached in his snack bag for some cherry tomatoes. “Look!” I said, “Cherry tomatoes! Would you like to have one?” From behind a fluttering curtain, “No.” I wasn’t sure he was aware of what I was holding. “Taste one,” I offered. “Then decide.”

I held the tomato to his mouth and he took it. His mouth chewed. His face remained flat. His eyes were gone. I couldn’t tell what was happening behind them. Finally, I asked, “How does it taste?” and from the distant, mossy place in which this magical man was dwelling he boomed, “DELICIOUS!!”

I laughed. I couldn’t help it. I had tended this young man through his meal, offering treats and encouraging. Here we stood, a bag of cherry tomatoes between us, and his delighted face sparkling around the lost world in his eyes. We laughed together, for the first time that day, and he reached for the bag. His eyes, eyes blind to this world, danced. His mouth chewed and smiled. Curtain after curtain was brushed aside. In that moment, we stood in community. It was a community of shared vitality, of flavor, of patient compassion, of friendship. I turned to glance at my son, and when I turned back the magic man had vanished. He had returned to his Neverland home behind the shimmering shadows of leaves.

Food was served. Food was gathered. I asked each pot to be placed here and there in my overcrowded car. When I return the leftovers and pots to the church after each meal share, my course takes me past the Civic Circle. Often, hungry friends who couldn’t make it across the bridge are there. I like to have the pots arranged to make it easy to serve a few meals out of the car on our way back to the church.

As the pots were disappearing into my car, my friend, Daniel came up to me. One hand was on his cane, the other was held in front of me in a closed, downward fist. His slow, whispered speech dragged out at a pace much slower than the anxious joy that skittered forward from his eyes. “For you…” he said, placing an object in my hand. I looked. A crystal glittered in my palm, radiating power and warmth. I looked up at him, “Daniel, thank you,” and swept him into my embrace.

There we stood. Pressed. Entwined. The shuffle of pots, the sounds of the birds, the flutter of light on my closed eyelids twinkled all around while Daniel and I rode the slipstream. Swept along, together, swept along, communing, swept along, riding the current in the palm of God’s mighty hand. I clutched his gift. “This is just what I needed today,” I told him. “I love you,” Daniel rasped. The warmth of his chest against my cheek was a sanctuary of comfort. “I love you, too, Daniel.”

As quickly as we gathered, we parted. An hour of time with a world inside of it bound by no clock or time had ended. Our magic door closed, and the world returned. But my son and I were in the slipstream. We dropped from one magic plane into another and headed for the circle.

Friends. Right away, I found a man I knew. He was always happy to see us, always grateful. As I filled his plate his face twinkled with delight. “Some salad?” I asked him, “It has barley and beans!” “YEAH!” his enthusiastic reply. “Some kale? It has beans and sweet potatoes and onions!” “YEAH!!!” and his enthusiasm grew. It was a series of grateful “yeahs” framed in happy laughter and off our friend went to enjoy his meal.

Around the corner, another friend, and another happy plate shared. We were almost done. A young man I knew approached and we sent him on his way with his share of our bounty. As he crossed the park, I saw him sit with two more people I was sure I hadn’t met. Moving the car forward, I got out to see if they also might want a meal. One of the new friends was a young man, with dark bristled hair. The other was an older man, big and broad, with a giant green hiker’s backpack resting at his feet. They were in conversation as I approached so I sat, without speaking, and waited for the chance to make my offer.

After a few moments, I interjected. Addressing the two new friends, I said, “I have some more stew like what Ray is eating. And some salad and zucchini lasagna and greens. We also have some snacks, boiled eggs and snap peas. Would you like something to eat? It’s really delicious. And it’s good for you.”

The younger man looked at me, both amused and confused. “Who are you?” he laughed, “Where did you come from?” Now it was I who had appeared through a magical door. The slipstream was flowing from my world of community and abundance into this lost place of the forgotten, tucked away in the thick of the circle’s trees. I was spinning, gently turning, in the currents of the slip stream. The clear day was gold and green, with the cool grey of the concrete beneath me running through it. Without time, in this moment alive, I learned the faces of the two men in front of me. I unbent my shoulders and showed them my shirt.

“This is me. We serve two meals a week to our neighbors who are homeless. You should have some. I have to say, my cooking is delicious. And we only serve, fresh, healthy food. Take a look.” I pulled one of my postcard maps with the group description on the other side out of my bag and handed it to the younger man. To the older man I handed my phone displaying a picture of the last Wednesday meal. “This is the kind of food we like to serve,” I told them. “Food that lifts and nourishes people.”

The older man stared at the picture on my phone as the young man started to read my card. Still laughing nervously, he started to read out loud in a mocking tone, “Radical Love nourishes the bodies, minds & spirits of our neighbors who struggle under the burden of homelessness. We seek to help them overcome the nutritional deficits that lead to…” He stopped reading out loud, but kept reading. His sardonic grin dissolved as he continued. When he got to the end, he looked up.

“Is this for real? Are you for real? What is this?” The face of the older man was shining. I got up and sat next to him on the bench. “It’s Radical Love,” I said. “There is enough. There is enough for people to share of their abundance, not just give what is leftover. People need healthy food. They are sick. They need good care.” The older man’s face was locked into an amazed and joyful smile.

“YES!” he said, “YES! We matter! Each one of us matters! Each one of us is a unique and beautiful creation, none like the other!”

“YES!” I came back. “That is my point! That is why Radical Love. That is why healthy food. This is nutrient dense meals. This is food education. And this food asks a question: Who are these people who deserve this better thing? And the answer is not the same as when you ask: What do I do with my leftovers.”

“YES!” my new friend cried, and reached for my arm. Our eyes traveled into one another, locked in understanding. “Come have some,” I invited, and they followed me to my car.

At the car, the younger man could not stop laughing. He could not stop exclaiming. “WOW! This IS for real! Look at that! Look at THAT!” I handed him several bags of snap peas and a few boiled eggs. He looked me squarely in the eye. “This is great. I mean, this is really wonderful. I just can’t believe it. I can’t believe you are doing this. Thank you, so much.” I hugged the young man. In his arms, none of his doubt or darkness remained. We rode the slipstream, one mind, one idea, on the same plane.

I dished up some of the Portuguese stew that had been served on Wednesday. I held it up to the older man and invited him to smell it. His already open face brightened with delight as he fell into the slipstream. He stood, tall and broad, there at the curb. On his back, was the giant hiker’s pack stuffed tight with the contents of his nomadic life. His mouth came open in a smile and his eyes turned up to God. “Wow…” he said, as I sat it down, “Wow…”

He turned to me, still smiling, and started to move. In the momentum of the slipstream, he leaned. His broad body loomed above me, his butter yellow shirt swallowing my field of vision as he came. I felt the weight of his pack in my mind as his body came toward me, leaning into the flow of the slipstream as he came. My heart rose and thumped, wondering if we would end up on the ground, as his arms circled me round.

And we did not fall. Instead, a deep tenderness rose up all around and we stood. He held me, tenderly, and I pressed myself into his arms. From above, into the top of my head, he whispered, “….thank you ….thank you ….thank you.” From my peace, from my abundance, from the cradle of God’s grace in the slipstream I whispered it back. “Thank you.”

It was with remarkable Grace that I traveled that day. The miracle of the slipstream and its peace had astounded me. I wondered if this was some breakthrough, some change to my own mental frailty, a persistent miracle that was the beginning of a new phase of life.

It wasn’t. The next day, when I stepped out of my door, I did not go into the slipstream. Doom and Sick and Doubt draped their heavy arms around me pushing and scratching at my unsteady edges, once again. I would spend as much of the day as possible in retreat, nursing my own dark magic and reaching out for Grace and Peace. It is a battle fought by the soldiers of light and dark within me, all born from the violently torn cracks and way places that make up the terrain of my own mind.

But within that shadowy place there is always The Voice. It is The Voice that travels with me, and is my guide. It is The Voice that whispers recipes and ideas and plans. It opens the slipstream door in those great moments of mercy and gently pulls me in. The Voice teaches compassion, and explains complexity with empathy, love and an open heart. And it gives me patience for brokenness, including my own.

Psalm 45: 1-13, translated and adapted by Nan C. Merrill in Psalm For Praying

Your Divine Presence endures forever
and ever.
Your sovereign edict is ordained
with justice;
your love is unconditional,
without reserve.
Therefore, O Creator, O Heart of Love,
anoint us with
the oil of gladness to share
with all;
your raiment is as fragrant
blossoms,
healing herbs of kindness.
From every directions stringed instruments
will gladden our hearts;
our friends will be filled
with integrity,
standing beside us in times of need.

Hear, O peoples, consider, and
incline your ear;
forget what has gone before you;
turn your feet to the path of Love.
Open your hearts to the Beloved,
learn of humility, be blessed
in brokenness,
For these are the treasures stored
in eternity.

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