Maria Garvey: Community, Belonging and finding our home in God
C: I’m delighted for this episode of the Loved, Called, Gifted podcast to be joined by Maria Garvey. Do you want to introduce yourself?
M: Yeah, thanks Catherine. I live in Northern Ireland, I live here in Ross-Trevor(?). What brought me to Northern Ireland, over 20 years ago actually, coz I grew up in the South of Ireland, was to found a L’Arche community here. My work over the years has been about creating communities of belonging, for people who find themselves marginalised, actually in any way, but primarily with intellectual disabilities, in the context of L’Arche. Further on then, I found myself encountering really the loneliness of homeless people and women with mental health issues. Perhaps who were never thought of in terms of community so much as houses and help. So part of my work since then has been engaging with people who experience themselves marginalised in any way. Goving them an opportunity and an experience of being able to contribute, such that they know that their lives matter. That their lives make a difference. So who I am really, is a commitment to everyone knowing that they matter. No matter what.
C: I think that’s beautiful. I like that phrase, ‘a community of belonging’ is really meaningful. I know your faith runs through who you are very deeply; I wonder how your understanding of God connects with your understanding of community of belonging?
M: My understanding of God is… God is a space in which everyone and everything has it’s place. Everything and everyone belongs. So when I pray, I pray into that space of intimate belonging. I love to be able to come back to that space in which all of me belongs. And to bring back home the parts which I might have sent into exile in order to look good or show off the right way, y’know that feeling of showing off the right way. So I think God is a homecoming space for me. Where I experience the deepest sense of home, almost like a love. I suppose in many many ways my prayer would be that I also, in looking into the world, bestow the loveliness. I think I’m particularly keen on allowing people who might not know they are beloved to have that experience of “you are really precious”.
C: That sort of understanding of God as a space in which we all belong, I wonder if that’s something which has grown in you, or if it’s something you think you started with?
M: I remember when I was a child, my favourite place was to sit on the windowsill, and on the mantlepiece – there’s a fireplace in this bedroom – and on the mantlepiece there’s this little plastic ornament, it was like little gates. When you opened the gates, Jesus was standing behind them. It was plastic, I assume my mother bought it at some mission or something like that. I remember always feeling like those gates, that there was no end to where they could go. It was like a mystery, I remember opening the gates and imagining that there was no end, just infinite, where they could go. And there were times where I would imagine myself going behind those gates, and there was no limitation behind those gates. Anything that I might have been feeling, sitting on the windowsill, disappeared when I got myself through those gates. So I guess that I had that sense of a space to go to, that God is a space to go to, when I might be a bit lonely or lost, was there even as a child. My sense of God then was those gates opening, for me. I haven’t actually thought of it for a very long time, so thank you for reminding me. Yeah, I always had a sense that God was a place to go.
C: Yes, and that’s not a sense that everybody has terribly clearly, is it?
M: But if we don’t learn about God as a Space, a comfortable space of belonging, we quite often learn about God, in the Catholic Church, at least, as Rules to be kept. ‘If I do this, then I will…’ it’s almost like a transactional relationship. A contractual relationship, ‘if you behave this way, then you will earn your way into life in the hereafter’. Whereas my senses of God is not about contract, but about covenant. Which is a promise. And I love the idea of, the promises of God in scripture, for me they are all about belonging. “I will be with you always.” “I will be –” what a promise! “I will be there for you, I will be with you.” So I think from very early on in life, I chose…was it a choice? Was it just me? Was it God’s grace? I don’t know, but I always thought of God as the promise of infinite possibility.
I grew up in a small town in Cork, in Ireland, and there’s a beautiful church, magnificent stained glass windows. It was a small church. When we all marched into the church, my mother first, my father at the end, and 5 of us like ducklings inbetween, and we always sat in the same seat. This is the old way of being in church. During mass, because it was from time to time boring – to a child – I used to squint my eyes and look through the stained glass windows. Again, it was that sense of looking into the beyond. Looking into what was beyond what was happening in church. I still have that sense actually, even now if I go to church and I close my eyes, I have that sense of church itself being a way to the Beyond.
C: Like the gates in the ornament
M: Yeah, it’s exactly the same. Exactly the same. And a lot of my work, actually, when I think about it, is about giving people a ‘beyond’, giving people access to possibilities that are not quite visible to them. I give people the possibility of being free. Breaking the limits that tell them who they are.
C: I wonder what stories come to mind if you think about how that’s worked out in practice, or how that is working out?
M: One of the things that comes to mind immediately is a young man I worked with in a place called Sandy Row in Belfast. If you’ve lived here, Sandy Row will be a name you’ll know about because it will be more a loyalist/unionist area community. Strongly engaged in protecting and defending it’s own identity and culture. I met a young man, we’ll call him for the sake of this…Jim. Jim came to me one day, I was… my work in Sandy Row was to be a holy loiterer, to loiter in a community centre where young disenfranchised men, men who have difficulty getting employment or keeping employment. The community centre was largely young men who’d come in who had nowhere else to be or hang out. So my job is to hang out with them. Just to befriend them really. One guy came to me one day, Jim, and he said “I’d like you to help me to do my CV”. I thought “oh gosh, we’re on a winner here.” As we started it I said to him “why’re you [uninteligible] cv?” He said to me “the thing is Maria, I want to stay on the broom –” which in Northern Ireland is unemployment benefit – “and I have to prove that I’m looking for work. So if I show them a new CV, that’ll be proof enough.”
I said to him, “Oh Jim! I don’t like that, it doesn’t make me feel very useful or helpful.”
He said “It’ll be huge if I can stay on the broom!”
So we started off by asking what his employment history was, bits of things that he’d done for 2 days or 3 days, he hadn’t managed to keep work regularly at the time. I said to him, “I’m guessing that your employment history is never going to get you work. So let’s look at who they’ll be getting.”
He started off by saying “an alcoholic”.
I said “will I write that down?”
He said “no, no”.
I said “what else?”
He said “a druggie”,
I said “no, I’m not going to write that down, what else?”
The list got longer and none of them were very flattering, so I said to him, “can you think of anything else?”
He said “didn’t I come on time today?”
I said “you certainly did!”
He said “what would you call that?”
I said “let’s call it, ‘you’re a man of your word’” and he said “are you going to write that down?”
I said, “yeah I will”.
He said “last week I made the plan to come, and I did show up.”
I said, “yeah, you did”.
He said “what would that be?”
I said “dependable” and I wrote that down.
He said, “what would you call it if you broke into a house and you had to turn all the spice jars around before you left?” *both laugh*
I said to him, “well, I would call it crazy, what would you call it?”
He said “I have ODC”,
I said “OCD?”,
he said “that’s it, and I have dyslexia as well.”
So I said to him “let’s not call it a label. Let’s call it ‘attention to detail’”.
So we went on, and as we went on I could see him visibly changing, Catherine. He said to me, “could you write down too many good things about a person?”
I said, “No, I don’t think you could.”
“Y’know,” he said, “my Da was involved in the Troubles” – here in Northern Ireland. He said, “if you go down the road, there’s a poppy wreath in his name on the wall. He was killed when we were very young. I have a twin, we were only 5.” He said, “Sometime after that, my sister, the eldest, went out one night and she got drunk and she came home and she vomited and she choked and died.” And then he said “and a few years after that, my Mam couldn’t do it any more, so she died by suicide, she took an overdose.” He said, “I was only 8 when Mam died.” He said, “what would you call that?”
I said, “I’d call that a miracle. I’d call it a miracle that you’re still here. And still showing up. But the word we’ll put on your CV is ‘resilient’.”
So we wrote that down and then I said to him, “Is there anything else you’d like me to say?”
He said, “I don’t know”
I said, “If you died tonight, and your mates were talking about you tomorrow in the pub, and you could hear them, what would you love them to say?”
He said, “Nobody will ever say it, Maria.”
I said, “What would you love them to say?”
He said, “No, I can’t say it, I’m too ashamed.”
I said, “Try me, Jim.”
He said, “I’d love them to say I was a gentleman.”
So we wrote that down on his CV, and then he asked me immediately to print it out. He came out of the room with me and he said to his friends, “you all thought you knew me! But Maria really knows me, this is who I am!”
So for a few months I met him on the street, every time I met him he patted his pocket and said “I have myself in my pocket.”
So just to finish the story, a number of months after that, I met him and he said “I got a job!”
I said, “Are you serious Jim? What did you get?”
He got a job making moulds for a bus.
He said, “They needed someone who had attention to detail.”
This job was on trial for 3 months, and if he didn’t make a bubble in the mould, because he was pouring hot metal, then they would give him the job permanently. He never made a bubble. His claim to fame was when I met him on the street in Sandy Row, he shouted at me “I’m the gentleman who never makes a bubble! Now I know myself!”
Catherine, he’s stayed, he’s still working.
C: That’s brilliant
M: So for me, giving people access, to who they are, beyond any of the labels that live with them; I love to see people recognising who they are when they’re not what they do. Or when they’re not who they think or they’re not what their history is or their geography or their biography. Who are you, when you’re not any of those things? And he was, the gentleman who never makes bubbles. I just love it. Instead of alkie and ex-con and druggie and all those labels. So that’s an example, really, I suppose, of giving somebody the space to be fully themselves.
I was reading the story in John’s gospel where they’re in the middle of the lake and Jesus is walking across the water and they’re a bit worried about him and then they work out who it is and there’s a little phrase that I hadn’t spotted before and it was “and they were glad to welcome Jesus into the boat”. I don’t know why that comes to mind as we’re talking, but your picture of going into the space where Jesus is, through the plastic gates, into the infinite beyond… the other side of that is the fact that Jesus is pleased, that God is pleased to come into the boat with us.
M: Yeah, I’ve seen that actually. He was walking towards them, and they were glad. I work a lot today in the church, actually, and the church has become a marginalised body in many ways, it’s become in many cases because of history now and the abusive situations and all that has gone on with church, the church and many of the people engaged with church are almost too afraid to say so. There’s a certain shame now that almost has become associated with church. In a way when you talk about “and they were glad”, maybe we’re in our boat so busy trying to save ourselves, so busy trying to row really hard, that we don’t see the God who walks gently on the water towards us. We don’t actually see it. We’re so busy, our heads are down, trying to keep the church alive in whatever way we want to keep it alive and we don’t see necessarily, or stop long enough to see that God is…close. In ways that we couldn’t even imagine. Who’d ever imagine somebody walking to you on water. If you’re a fisherman, it’s the last thing in the world. Think about it really. It must have been an extraordinary thing for them.
C: So incredible
M: Yeah. It’s the last thing you’d expect. To see your God – or anyone! – walking on water in your direction.
C: There was a bit of concern before he got into the boat. But at that point when He got into the boat, they were glad to welcome Him.
M: Glad to see a sign of the impossible. The relief of it comes in. What I’m hearing is, when they finally got Him into the boat, they were *soft sigh* glad. All the hard work, all the concern, all the worry, all the confusion, sort of – at least in my own life when I’ve gone through hard times, there’s a moment where I’m weighed down from it. I’m weary from the concern. There comes a moment where I’m just glad when something happens. When something extra-ordinary just walks… – I broke my arm very recently, and I had been working way too hard. I had been talking about it for a while, “I’m working too hard, I’m working too hard, I need a break.” It was practically the last thing I said before I fell. And shattered my elbow. It wasn’t the break I was expecting, and I wouldn’t have wanted it, to happen this way, but ironically, and I’m not saying that this was good or bad, the break was very unfortunate, but it gave me the space to come back home to who I am. I had become, almost, what I do. I had become my reputation or my availability for people, I’d become an unending yes to everything. The risk was that I would lose the love that’s at the heart of my work. It had just become hard work. So what came in unexpectedly was this break. I am not saying that it was easy. Or that it is easy. It isn’t. I’m impatient now for my right arm to work properly. But it did give me a space to step back again and ask myself, is this who I am, is this who I want to be? So busy, that actually, I haven’t eyes to see anymore? We talked about belonging earlier. I think our times, busyness, for me at least, is the enemy of belonging. Busyness is a great way for me of avoiding my own loneliness, the ordinary, human existential thing, like if I’m busy I feel important. It’s easy to fall into that. So I’m just imagining that in the boat, and being busy trying to keep afloat, and then being confused, I think they must have had consternation about all of it, and then finally, the rest, the gladness. I feel that right now, because I’m just about starting out again after this time of recovery. What I feel most of all is just the gladness of encountering people again and being back to myself again, having time to see, and time to, just to encounter, properly. Rather than rushing around. I hope it lasts.
C: *laughs* What are the things for you that help it to last?
M: Funny you should ask that. I was initially this morning thinking about that. So that I don’t go off-track so quickly again. One of the big things that I’ve done for many, many years, is I read the scripture of the day every morning, the Catholic church – and in the Anglican church too – we have a lectionary, where the scripture of the day is prescribed. It isn’t one that you choose for yourself. So I read that early in the morning, with a cup of tea, in bed, generally. And then I meditate – you can call it meditation, I often sit one thought rolling in after another, monkey mind, but at least for 20 minutes I’m sitting with…whatever arises in that word, and then I generally write, I journal for about another 20 minutes, half an hour. And usually what happens is, one word will float up from all the words, and it will give direction to my day. It will be the word in the background of every day. That always centres me. It’s just a very good practice. What else? Walking, in nature. I live in the middle of nature. Sometimes when I’m too busy, I don’t even see it any more. I become beauty blind. But I live in a very beautiful place. Stopping, and walking, and stopping and looking, really helps. I have a cat. Me and my cat. I think Julian of Norwich also has a cat, so that helps me. She’s extremely good for bringing me back into the moment. She loves me unconditionally – well, the condition is that I feed her, I suppose. But it feels like unconditional love, she demands nothing other than food. But she’s very good at wanting to be petted from time to time. She’d come right up. Sometimes when I’m on zoom calls she actually comes and closes the lid of my laptop. As if to say “you’ve had enough of this, give me a bit of attention”. But the funny dear old things that bring me home to the moment, and what really allows me to live well and to live close to God, the God that is the space for everything, is to come home to the moment. To really focus on, in this moment. And now this moment. And be present, fully, in the moment. I think that’s probably the biggest thing, and then what brings me back to that is prayer. And the cat, and walking in or by nature. And I dunno, treats with friends, like a glass of wine in the village beside the sea. With friends. Beauty and friendship. All those things we talk about. I think we all, in one way or another really appreciate them. Just make sure we make time for them.
C: There’s something, isn’t there, about getting your eye in, in those deliberate moments of making space, and then it’s easier to spot. It’s easy to see Jesus in your conversation with Jim if you’ve had that space earlier on at some point. I notice for me there’s a rhythm that happens. So I know now that if I can get 2 or 3 days away, that doesn’t happen that often, but a little bit of concentrated time makes it much much easier to be sensitive to those encounters with God that come after that. The setting aside time, whether that’s going out for a walk or taking my journal out to a coffee shop or whatever it happens to be, those moments are easier to enter into if you’ve kind of already had a bit of time. Then the busyness happens and you have to recalibrate, I think it’s a fairly –
M: And there’s nothing wrong with busyness, so long as we’re aware, as long as I’m aware that I’m busy. What can happen to me is I can get numb. I can get so busy for so long. If I let go of my morning routine, that’s the one that’s really important. It’s easier for me because I don’t have children, I don’t have grandchildren, I don’t have anybody to think about in the morning. In a sense. But if I let go of that, and I sometimes do, because what can often happen actually Catherine, is I get into a good novel. I wake up in the morning, “I’ll just read 1 more chapter and then…” but then 1 chapter turns to 2 chapters, or 3 chapters, and then I’m getting up to do whatever I have to do in the day. So if I’m not aware that I’m busy, it can become a habit. It’s like another part of my work is helping people to inhabit the lives that they want for themselves. It’s not about wanting them. Y’know, ‘the road to hell’ as they say ‘is paved with good intention’. So I can have all the intentions in the world, but unless I turn something into a habit, so it eventually becomes automatic, nothing changes. So we call it inhabiting your best life. What do I need? What habits do I need to make? Or break? Or change? So I’m living the life I want to live. We won’t call it ‘more’ anything or ‘less’ anything. That’s fun. It’s more fun to do it that way. Tell me about the life you’d like to live. What do you need to have in that life so that you stay well? And let’s begin to inhabit it. Which would mean to actually do it. Most of us want something, other than perhaps we have more of or less of or whatever, but wanting it and actually doing it are two different things. Doing it, inhabiting it, doing it regularly enough so that it becomes part of me, that’s the challenge. I think it’s really hard. I think it’s really hard. For myself at least, I can just get addicted to being on a ferris wheel. Constantly on the go. So it’s like breaking an addiction.
C: I’m just thinking back to something that you said at the beginning of this conversation when you said things go wrong when you’re not being who you are, but you’re being… I can’t remember the words that you used.
M: I think I said when I try to prove myself instead of being(?) myself.
C: It’s not the busyness that’s the problem, it’s that the busyness distracts us from being who we are.
M: Yeah. In fact if I am myself in action, I can do every bit as much as I do in a day, when I’m doing for identity. Do you get it? Sometimes I’m doing things so that I’m recognised. So that my identity is safe and sound. “Oh Maria, she’s always available. Oh Maria, she’s a great listener, or oh Maria, you can count on her.” They’re labels I have inside of myself perhaps, but they’re something to do with my identity. So when I’m serving my identity, like looking good, I say to people sometimes, “oh, I’m so good at looking good that I don’t recognise when looking good feels bad.” D’y’know it’s like I choose looking good over feeling well sometimes. That’s how it shows up in busyness in my case, because one of the things I learnt as a little girl, actually, coz I was the eldest of 5 and my Mum worked outside the home, was, I was a “good girl” when I was really responsible and helpful. Y’know I was the eldest, of course that’s helpful, but of course I’ve grown up with that. I’m “good” when I’m responsible and helpful. That can be in the background driving me to say yes. When in fact sometimes it will be healthier to say no. And then all the yeses add up. Eventually I am over-committed. And no longer have the space to have eyes to really encounter God. What I am encountering essentially on those days is, another thing to do. I don’t know, I presume, I’m not the only one. I think so anyway.
C: Yes, I think so.
M: There’s a lot of me, or rather, a lot of us around. I think it’s a human thing.
C: Yeah, I think so too
M: We want to look good. Because looking good when we were small children meant that we survived. That doesn’t necessarily mean that our families were dysfunctional in any way. But looking good got us attention, got us – even a small baby smiling. Very quickly they learn, “if I smile at mammy, I will get…” whatever it is. I’ll get her attention, I’ll get more food, I’ll get…who knows. But we learn very very very young what works. And then it imprisons us as we get older. Instead of working from our soul’s purpose, we end up serving our survival purpose. So much of our lives, we’re just working to survive.
And then at the end of our lives for many people they say “All that I’ve done I’ve never lived at all”. And I can understand that. Cos I think in the context of this conversation, I suppose if you ask me again ‘Who is God for me?’ Another way I’d say it is “God is life.” When I’m fully alive I’m very aware of the presence of God.
And when I’m just trying to survive, which I sometimes am, I am very absent to the presence of God.
C: And that fully aliveness comes from being who we are not who we think we need to be as you say to survive it’s that - when we’re living out of our authentic selves
M: Yeah! And the freedom of that. Before I came on the call with you today I sat out in the garden because it’s a beautiful day and I have loads of work to do today but I sat out in the garden with a cup of coffee and my book and I just stopped for a minute and thought “I must be the luckiest human being on earth.”
And it was nothing other than to sit in a chair outside the front door with a coffee and a book. That’s all it took for me to be so deeply grateful.
C: Yeah, absolutely. And you can infuse all sorts of things with that element of beauty and of nurture. When I lead a team of speech and language therapists a number of years ago and my favourite thing if I was going to have a meeting with somebody was to find a nice coffee shop. My feeling was this. We do not need to sit in some grotty hospital meeting room when there’s a cafe round the corner that does nice cappuccino.
M: Absolutely! My mother, God rest her beloved soul, used to say no one ever found heaven by following a sad saint. Do you know there’s something about living the kind of life that allows joy to rise up in you. Because people need joy. Our world is in need right now of joy. We live in such a frightening time.
Now whether we do or whether we don’t, the way it’s portrayed through media and I’m not judging the media but we hear over and over again, there’s catastrophe after catastrophe, after likely catastrophe after likely catastrophe. So we’re looking into a future without hope. And I love the text from Jeremiah 29. it is Yahweh who speaks:
I know the plans I have in mind for you. Plans for peace and not destruction and a future filled with hope. And if you look for me you will find me. If you come to me with all of your heart you will find me here, already waiting for you.
Now a future that’s filled with hope and a God who’s already here waiting for me is such a different future than a future where climate migration means none of us will have enough food. And I’m not suggesting for a minute that we’re not responsible for creating a healthier future but I don’t think we’re going to get there by making people so frightened that they’re paralysed. And I think we’re living in a world where it’s believed that if you frighten people enough they’ll act responsibly.
My sense actually is that love is what transforms the world. Not fear.
C: Yeah. I would agree with you.
Just going back to our last conversation. If we’re frightened we go into survival mode. We don’t act out of our best selves and that connection we have with people goes.
M: Yeah. And instead of people becoming beloved others, what they become is a threat. We start to come from a place of scarcity. So I’m rivalling you rather than a space of abundance where we have enough together.
That idea of enough is interesting. At one level you can say I’m enough, but at another level, which helps me enormously, is I’m not enough but together we’re more than enough. I love that idea.
I led a retreat many years ago in Belgium with men and women with intellectual disabilities and assistants and they were from all over the world so it was multi lingual. There was a man there who just had difficulty being in a group and he had very challenging behaviour for others and so in order to keep him steady in this week of retreat he translated for me. He couldn’t speak English at all but he translated for me so every now and again he’s say to me “arrête Maria! Stop Maria” and then he would translate what I’d said. And he only ever translated it with three words. “Amour, amour, amour.” Just “love love love”. So the only thing he could hear me say the entire week was ‘love, love, love.” He interspersed my talks with it. And the talks were very geared towards people with different ways of being in the world. So some of them were singing songs with wooden spoons painted as microphones. Afterwards when I asked people how the retreat was for them, the only three words they remembered was “Amour, amour, amour.” And he, in his way, changed the experience for people. He gave them an experience of abundance and of freedom and of creativity in a way that certainly alone I could not have done it.
I often think, Catherine, of Moses and Aaron. Aaron had the words and Moses had the message. Moses could never have delivered his message without his brother Aaron and I often think that’s what often makes the difference. Knowing that I only have one tiny bit and I need somebody else to bring the rest.
C: Where you started is you saying that what you do in the world has been about creating communities of belonging. And that really is what you’re describing.
M: Yeah probably. It’s about mutually transforming relationships. It’s not about me coming in and helping you. I think there’s nothing worse than being helper and helped. Because those who are being helped don’t get to experience their contribution. They too are making a huge contribution to life.
That’s the thing when I broke my elbow actually. I live here in the countryside three miles out of the village and I couldn’t drive for three months so I needed people constantly to come and do shopping and in the beginning to help me dress and to cut up the sleeves of some of my clothes and some of that sort of stuff.
In the beginning I thought ‘I’m such a burden’ and then I realised what I’ve always been speaking about. To be asked to help somebody, to be vulnerable enough to need someone’s help is to give them a space to shine. And it’s not about doing love as much as my life generating love.
We all think ‘if we do love…’ That scripture is so interesting. Go out and bring the good news to the poor, tell prisoners that they’re prisoners no more - I’m not even quoting it correctly - tell blind people that they can see. That text.
And then we all added on a line to that: “if you do that, you’ll be very like me.” Be like Jesus, if you do all of that. But actually, that line isn’t in scripture. But further along in one of the other gospels is the line, ‘when did I not see you? When I was hungry.’ It’s like when I do go out and encounter the other it’s not that I am like Jesus, it’s that I will encounter Jesus, already there, waiting for me. So it’s the encountering of love that I think allows us to belong. When I encounter you I truly know that your life is a gift to me.
but the other thing is that you know your life is a gift to me.
C: Yes. I’m thinking of a couple of things. One is that story of Jesus talking with the Samaritan woman and the well and the reason he has the conversation is that it’s hot and he’s tired and he needs a drink.
He needs her to serve him.
M: As I get older, I’m 65 now and like most other people - I don’t know, I won’t say most - I’m one of the people who’s resisting ageing. I even have that feature on zoom that improves my appearance. I forget what it’s called!
Anyway. I have it up to full. I’m aware of my ageing body and I’m resistant to it. I don’t want to get old.
One of the things that strikes me in prayer, and only in prayer, is that it maybe the time when I accomplish my mission most fully. When my vulnerability, the vulnerability of getting older and less independent, calls out the love of others. That generates the space. When I am the space where others can shine.
It’s one thing to create the space where others can shine, which has been the mission of my life, but to become the space in which others can shine I think is ultimately the deepest spiritual call.
C: Yes. And others will be the space where you get to shine
M: Absolutely. One of the things I’ve discovered is that those who generate community are very often the ones that community never welcome in.
I think the first time we met you talked about Church Without Walls, was it?
M: And that’s what struck me. Someone was asking me about you when I knew I was coming on this call and I said ‘she created a space wherever anyone who might not normally come in are present because they’re just there. They don’t have to come in a door they’re already welcome. And it’s that whole idea of being - as far as I consider God as being the space where I get to shine then I consider my own vocation as to become the space where all of us get to shine. Not just me but all of us together. And then I suppose that what ends up happening is that in my life I end up finding myself in the places where people aren’t shining.
My work in the world has always led me out to where people have lost their light. It’s either been taken from them or the world has never recognised it or they’ve worked themselves so hard they’ve burnt themselves out.
It’s interesting to work with people with burn out because all that has happened is that their light has gone out. And rekindling or re-igniting their light.. I love that work of helping them to rekindle the spark in themselves.
C: When you’ve burnt out it’s because you’ve moved just too far away from your own self. So that phrase you’ve used of God being a home. So it’s welcoming people home to themselves, isn’t it.
M: Yeah. Absolutely. And it’s nearly always about coming home isn’t it?
Over and over and over again. And knowing home and going out from home every day. When I’m not at my best it’s when I’ve left home and not come home for a while. I’ve gone too far from home.
Catherine it’s lovely having this conversation. Yes that is my work. No matter where I am and what I’m doing it’s always about giving people an opportunity to come home. If it’s in conversation.. It can happen absolutely anywhere.
I remember there was this man I met. I went into London and at that time I had glandular fever and it used to spike on certain days. I wanted to go to St Martin in the Fields and the crypt there because I wanted to go to the cafe there and Trafalgar Square but I was too ill so I went to Westminster Cathedral and I thought I would sit on the seat there until it was time to go to Heathrow. So I met a man who was homeless lying in a green slimy looking sleeping bag on cardboard boxes on the way in at the door. And I said to him. “Oh my God, I’d love to be lying down, right now, where you are.”
I was really ill. And he said “Would you like a space?” And he tapped on the ground and he said “I’ll open my sleeping bag and you can have some.”
And so I sat down beside him and I said “What’s your name?” And we had this magnificent conversation about how he got to be where he was. And it turned out that his name was Paul but the local people called him Badger. So he told me I could call him Badger. And he had a son, and his son was called Paul Junior and at the end of the conversation I said to him…
He’s gotten to be on the streets the same way most people do. One circumstance after another and because of being violent he wasn’t allowed to stay in a homeless shelter. So I said to him, “If there’s anything you’d love me to say to Paul Junior, What would it be? If ever I met him, if ever I was talking publicly and he was listening, what would you want him to know, more than anything?” And he said, “If you meet my Paul, tell him Badger said, ‘there must be a God.’”
And I said to him “Really? Why?”
And he said “See that space over there?” He pointed to a circle of flagstones in front of the Cathedral, he said “one day I was so desperate I fell on my knees and I started to cry out to God and I said “God, if you exist you have to help me.”
And I said “And?” And he said,
“Well Maria, I don’t drink alcohol now until two every day and I don’t do drugs until 6 every evening. So you tell my Paul that there must be a God.”
And what struck me in that, in the context of our conversation is that I often when I pray expect the miracle to be the perfect answer to my prayer. I want it big and I want it immediate and I want it dramatic enough, do you know. Like when I cry out to God I expect God to give me exactly what I want. Like a spoilt child. Badger on the other hand could see the blessing of God in the small tiny changes that were happening. And I will never forget him. Whenever I pray now I think of Badger praying and more to the point his listening. Not so much what he cried out but his listening for God.
my listening for God is that I want God to give me what I want. Badger’s listening for God is that God will do it in God’s good time. And I just - I don’t know why he comes to mind except in what he does in the context of this conversation. And maybe that one day Paul Junior will be listening . I hope that one day, through my speaking, Paul Junior, wherever he is in the world, will hear his father’s voice.
C: Well I’ve enjoyed hearing your heart speaking very much. So thank you.
M: Thank you.
Hope you enjoyed this episode of the Loved Called Gifted podcast. If you’d like to get in touch, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org You can find a transcript of this podcast at lovedcalledgifted.com and that’s also the place to go if you’re interested in the Loved Called Gifted course or if you’d like to find out about spiritual direction or coaching.
Thank you for listening.