I’ve noticed that when I start taking prayer seriously, I meet Jesus more often. As I posted before, to pray means to move into compassionate action. Here at the CAC, I’ve been spending a good amount of time in prayer, with out 20 minutes silent meditation in the morning and afternoon, as well as trying to use our labyrinth pretty frequently.
Last Saturday, I took a long bike ride to the University of New Mexico. While there, I sat by a beautiful pond, watching the hummingbirds, wondering if they ever stop moving so fast, gazing in amazement as they zip from one leaf to another. There were dozens of them, just flitting back and forth, and I was so struck by their incredible movement. An invisible hand seemed to just lift them up and down, as if they weren’t flying but being moved on an elevator of sorts. One of my favorite ways to pray is to imagine Jesus sitting next to me on the bench and to just talk as if I was talking to an old trusted friend, always picturing Jesus right there, putting the occasional hand on my shoulder and reassuring me, smiling at my lightheartedness, listening intently. I learned it from Richard Foster’s Celebration of Disciplines, and I’ve become a firm believer in the use of imagination during prayer. It has a way of bringing more of our being into our prayer life. Anyway, I did this for a good 45 minutes, just enjoying the day, wedding parties coming and going. Afterwards, I got up and left, biked around the city for a while longer and then started home.
With about 3 miles left until home, I looked to my left as I passed a black man. In Albuquerque, there aren’t a lot of black men, and this man was very dark and particularly stuck out. I was quite certain it was my friend Olu. Olu is from Nigeria, and I met him the first Wednesday I was in town at the Trinity House Catholic Worker, where he was just visiting for the night. I only briefly talked to him then and then ran into him the next day, while he was walking and I gave him directions back to the Catholic Worker house. The following Saturday, I’d taken a bike ride around town, and ran into him in a community arts shop. At that point, I’d given up on our meetings being mere coincidence. We had a long talk there about where he was from and what brought him to Albuquerque. Turns out he’s an artist, has lived in D.C. for a few years with his wife, but had no real luck selling his work there. He decided to come out here and try to get a start because ABQ is well known for its arts scene. He’s currently homeless, staying in hotels that he cannot afford. I gave him some money then, and started to try and figure out if he could stay at our house for awhile. That didn’t really work out.
So when I biked past Olu, I recognized him and kept going. I didn’t want to stop, because I knew it would involve a long conversation, having to explain why he couldn’t stay with us, and him needing money which I had none of. As I pedled away, I heard the voice of Jesus yet again (as in the above linked post)- “Are you really going to ignore me after you just spent an hour talking to me?” I still pedeled on, but just kept saying to myself that it was an opportunity to meet Jesus, and if I kept going, Olu would never know, but I would always know that I missed Jesus.
So I turned around. I went back, I said hello, we sat down in a park nearby (with a police car seeming very interested in what we were doing, but that would be a story for another time about the police…like this one from the fall). I told him about why we couldn’t host him (our rooms have to be kept available to people doing retreats who pay for them, which bothers me but I can’t make the rules here…though I might break them), and apologized and offered to try and find him some place. He told me that he needs to go back to DC to get some more of his “h’art” (the way he pronounces it) and his Social Security check and EBT card, and that he needed a plane ticket. Oof, Jesus was really asking me some tough questions there. “Is that money yours?” he asked. “Give to whoever asks of you.” Ouch again. I told Olu that I would think about it, and that if I bought it I’d only buy him a one-way ticket, and told him to come by our house the next day.
Olu came, and I bought him a one way ticket to BWI, and gave him instructions on how to take the MARC train to DC. It was really hard. He was at our house for a long time, and I didn’t feel like just sitting and chatting with him the whole time, I’d been reading and wanted to keep reading. He stayed for dinner, which was nice, but I didn’t feel like my housemates were too happy. I think they thought of him as a bum, quite honestly. One was quite rude to him when it was time for dinner, and I just felt like he was unwelcomed. I took him to the airport later, so he could sleep in the airport for a 6 am flight. It was hard to keep seeing Jesus in him, but I tried. Every time I felt myself getting impatient (because I had to explain every little detail a dozen times to make sure he understood), I tried to remember that he was Jesus. And I believe he was. Olu is still in D.C. I think. I know he wanted to come back as soon as possible but I doubt he had the money to do that. I personally think it was good for him to spend some time with his wife and maybe think about staying with her. I know African culture is often different in that area, but I felt sad that he was leaving his wife, so maybe he’s decided to stay awhile, but some how I think I will see him again.
And if I don’t see Olu again, I will see Jesus again, as often as I choose to open my eyes after I pray.