Like an old friend
It has been a quiet night out on the street. The cold weather seems to have everyone hunkered down early for the night. My friend Henry is at the bus stop, and he is upset. His belt broke and his pants keep falling down. His friend has set up a pillow and sleeping bag on the bus stop bench. Garbage and newspapers are strewn everywhere; it is a mess. Three sheriff cars pull up and let us know it’s time to go. Watching Henry clean up everything he owns is heartbreaking enough without his pants falling down. The sheriff deputies are irritated, but wait patiently for Henry and his friend to get organized. I give Henry underwear and razors and try to keep everyone calm. Apparently, Henry’s friend has been yelling at the bus and its passengers all night. I stand there being a friend to the friendless, wishing I had an extra belt.
The evening is winding down and I notice a shopping cart and several umbrellas set up in the alley. We approach our friend Katherine who has fallen asleep sitting up. “I must have fallen asleep for an hour.” She is happy to see us, and we apologize for waking her up. The handwarmers and emergency silver blankets are a big hit. “Yes! Those blankets really keep you warm!” I am with a group of Catholic deacons and I make some corny “how Catholic are you” jokes. Katherine tells us she grew up Catholic and asks me if I believe in the unexplainable. I tell her about a time I felt the power of the Holy Spirit heal me from the inside out. She asks what it felt like and I explain the warmth and peace that came upon me. Katherine tells us about a painful time in her life. “My mother had died, and I was really distraught. I felt this comforting hand on my back and assumed it was my boyfriend. I turned around but no one was there. It felt like an old friend. I always thought it was God.” An incredible conversation about the Holy Spirit begins to unfold. We discuss the mystery of the Trinity and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. With tears in her eyes, Katherine tells us about her son dying two years ago. She asks why Jesus has to leave and then send his Spirit.
The promise of God’s loving presence has manifested in the alley. We all kneel and hold hands, thanking God for loving us first and promising to never leave us. “I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left, feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be distraught” (John 14 :24-27, MSG).