Deep Emptiness and Fullness: A Typical Day

Ken, by Betsy NeelyIt is a cool, dreary morning, the first morning I’ve had off in a couple of weeks. It is a morning where the leaves are beginning to change and drift to the earth, a morning of Sabbath and reflection, a morning where I wonder how it is possible to feel so full and so empty at the same time.

Yesterday, someone asked what a typical day looks like for me. Here are glimpses of the last couple weeks, I told them: Holding the hand of a house-less veteran who was surrounded only by outreach workers when his life support was removed. Holding up our friend in the slums and praying with him as his wife’s body was placed into the hearse. Visiting a house-less 28-year old in the hospital who opened up for the first time about the voices he had secretly heard for years—voices he desperately wanted to stop. Taking two groups of students from Lipscomb and Emory around the streets and reading Scripture at the library park, the steps of downtown churches, the civil rights room, the courthouse, and the capitol. Leading a prayer during a vigil for fair wages for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers who have faced tremendous exploitation, yet still have courage and hope. Washing the feet of a man who wept CIW prayer vigilbecause he realized, for the first time in a long time, that he was not alone. Seeing the joy of a woman—traumatized, abused, and weary—as she moved into the safety of her own apartment. Finding an old friend on a bridge and sitting with him until the waves of despair, hopelessness, and suicidal feelings subsided. Working with a family of seven living together in their tiny car with all their worldly possessions and a small rescued dog.

Yes, how it is possible to feel so full and so empty at the same time?

This work is as demanding as it is rewarding, as humbling as it is haunting. There is always more to do than can be done, there are always more people in need than can be helped, there are always more calls and emails than can be answered. Sometimes, the only thing I have to give is my presence, my love, and my own vulnerability. “It is the crushed heart which is the soft heart, the tender heart,” a Carmelite nun once said.

And so, on mornings like this, I find solace in the hands that were held, the feet that were washed, the people who were housed, the students who were impacted, and the workers who have hope. I find solace in the friends at my side who remind me that none of us can do this work alone. I find solace in a God who moves among the broken and troubles the waters. And I find solace in the writings of Dorothy Day—a woman who knew the “long loneliness” of working for justice in the midst of a system that dehumanizes and degrades. In June of 1945 during a difficult time, Day penned these words:

dorothy day 1“What we would like to do is to change the world—make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do. And to a certain extent, by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, of the poor, of the destitute—the rights of the worthy and unworthy poor, in other words—we can to a certain extent change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world. We can throw our pebble into the pond and be confident that its ever-widening circle will reach around the world. We repeat, there is nothing that we can do but love, and dear God—please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as well as our friend.”

Amen. Let us go in love, in emptiness, and in fullness.

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