The congregation I pastor is located on a busy street, South Grand in the city. We have a food pantry, clothing room, health services, and employment counseling and emergency services. Many people come each weekday for some kind of care. A number of these are people living on the streets with untreated mental illness; people our society has abandoned. One woman comes regularly to the clothing room where she gathers more clothes than she can possibly use. Efforts at rational conversation with her have been without success. Usually her responses are a confusing jumble of words and phrases.
This afternoon, I arrived back at the church to find clothing spread out across the front of the church. A lot of clothing! It was on the lawn, laying up on top of some bushes, and spread out on the concrete porch. Each piece had clearly been laid out with some intention; no one piece was touching another. The clothes were not wadded up and thrown down. They were laid out. There was not a person in sight, but I knew. I went into the church to get the director of our Isaiah 58 Ministries (the Ecumenical outreach ministry of which the clothing room is a part.) When she and I came back out, we saw the woman who gathers clothes standing in front of the church and we went to talk to her. When we said that she needed to pick up her clothes, she responded by saying, “I’m praying my clothes. I don’t leave my clothes laying around. I’m praying my clothes. I can see them all. I’m praying my clothes.” Then she began picking them up.
Knowing from experience over time just how sick and confused she is, I am hesitant to attribute particular meaning to her words. I cannot assume to know how her mind works or how she processes the world around her and her own experiences. However, I haven’t been able to let go of the image of clothing laid out across the church lawn so that she could see every piece and her words, “I’m praying my clothes.” What comes to mind is ‘lectio divina’, a process of praying scripture in which we read scripture not for the whole of the story, but until a word or image stands out to us. At that point we stop and focus on that word or image and enter into our prayer around it. Norvene Vest, in her exploration of lectio divina, extends the process beyond scripture to life events. In such she invites us to pray the events of life; to listen for God’s word to us and God’s movement in the variety of experiences each day.
I wonder if we, who have so many clothes (and so much food, and ….), might do well to ‘pray our clothes’ — to place them where we can see them in their abundance, and focus our prayer on the provision of clothing. What would be the result? Perhaps increased awareness of God’s care. Perhaps increased awareness of our thankfulness. Perhaps a stark awareness that we have more than we can use and that God’s calls us to sort out and share with those who need them. Perhaps ….?
I don’t know what will happen, but I think I need to ‘pray my clothes … and quite a few other things. I won’t lay them out on the church lawn. But I will lay them before God.