To nourish and be nourished, walking with the homeless

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Dear Still Water Friends,

The screen saver of Jacki Coyle’s computer asks: How do you want to spend the currency of your life? It is a question she considers daily. Sometimes she reframes the question: “I have been nourished, I have been given gifts, how do I want to share that with other people?”

For the past ten years Jacki answered these questions in good part through serving as the Executive Director of The Shepherd’s Table, which offers basic services and support to people without homes and to others in need. Before that, Jacki held leadership positions with Catholic Charities in Maryland and with the Archdiocese of Maryland. She has also been Director of My Sister’s Place and Our Daily Bread in Baltimore and founded two programs that served those in need in Anne Arundel County.

When Jacki was a young adult she was greatly influenced by the life and writings of the theologian Henri Nouwen, and was able to attend two retreats with him. More than anyone, she says, he articulated how it is we are able to be of service to those in need.

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares. (from Out of Solitude.)

Five years ago practitioners from the Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center began volunteering together at The Shepherd’s Table, at the Wednesday morning Clothes Closet, and more recently, at a Sunday brunch offered to those in need. I believe we keep coming back as volunteers because Jacki and the other staff at The Shepherd’s Table embody a way of being with people that is graceful and special. Once I asked Jacki how to describe to others what occurs at Shepherd’s Table, "Are you a service center for the homeless, a resource center, a shelter?" Her reply was simple and inclusive, “We walk with them on their journey.”

Jacki will join us this Thursday evening. The theme she would like to explore is: When and how are we able to be fully present to a friend or to someone in need?

You are invited to be with us.

Another except on judgment and compassion, from The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen, is below.

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner

Solitude and Compassion

by Henri Nouwen, from The Way of the Heart

If you would ask the Desert Fathers why solitude gives birth to compassion, they would say, "Because it makes us die to our neighbor." At first this answer seems quite disturbing to a modern mind. But when we give it a closer look we can see that in order to be of service to others we have to die to them; that is, we have to give up measuring our meaning and value with the yard-stick of others. To die to our neighbors means to stop judging them, to stop evaluating them, and thus to become free to be compassionate. Compassion can never coexist with judgment because judgment creates the distance, the distinction, which prevents us from really being with the other.

Much of our ministry is pervaded with judgments. Often quite unconsciously we classify our people as very good, good, neutral, bad, and very bad. These judgments influence deeply the thoughts, words, and actions of our ministry. Before we know it, we fall into the trap of the self-fulfilling prophecy. Those whom we consider lazy, indifferent, hostile, or obnoxious we treat as such, forcing them in this way to live up to our own views. And so, much of our ministry is limited by the snares of our own judgments. These self-created limits prevent us from being available to people and shrivel up our compassion.