Meditating with Homeless People
Meditation is a gift. It is a gift I choose to accept. But it should come with a health warning. Not everything we experience in meditation feels good, nor is it what we expect. In fact, it is often quite the opposite. I discovered my cowardice and a capacity for selfdelusion. I discovered that the “fruits” of meditation are not fruits to take home and enjoy privately. The fruits are uncompromising and challenging. I was being called to live from a place of uncertainty, self-doubt and insecurity. It seemed to go against rational reasoning.
Before coming to stay at Meditatio House, I was living in Paris and while walking the streets I became increasingly aware of the vulnerability and desperate plight of those living on the streets. I began to realise I was being called to work with the homeless. It was a powerful beckoning but at that time I felt impotent and scared to act and could not think how I was to respond. While living in Meditatio House and sharing in the precious life of the community, the question of “how” was answered during my meditation. With the support of friends living within the House and the blessing of Fr. Laurence, I was encouraged to follow my intuition (I had no idea what I was doing). I offered myself for meditation group sessions for homeless people. I realised that I needed to offer a place of silence and stillness in their otherwise chaotic, frightening and pained worlds. The experience has been a profound gift. Since November, when the work began, my world has gradually been turning upside down and inside out.
As a result of these experiences and the people I have met and the stories I have been blessed to have been able to share, I am now in the middle of setting up a community environment week-long pilot project called Soil, Silence and Service where those with wealth, power and influence and the poorest and most vulnerable in society, will come together through the simple act of meditation. This is where love is, this is where we reconnect and discover that we are one with one another. We are rooted in the same soil. We need transformative, relational engagement between the poorest and richest. Our world is more divided and wounded than ever.
My experience of living in Meditatio House offered me the space to learn that each day we re-learn how to connect to our source and re-learn how to become simple like children. Each day we begin again and meditation is the great pilgrimage to the soul. Yet suffering of the soul and poverty of spirit are as common amongst the wealthy and powerful as they are amongst the poor and destitute. In acknowledging our own suffering, we become more human and can reach out with love to those whose suffering is greater. This is the great message and teaching of Christian Meditation. Love is the bridge.
“Let us never lose our living conviction that it is not necessary to wait until we are splendid people before we can do splendid things - that would probably mean waiting a long time, too long in fact! We only need to understand one splendid thing and then try to base our whole life on it: and that is that the first person we must help in all things is the person who is suffering the most.”Abbé Pierre
The Abbé Pierre quote is from The Rule for the Companions of Emmaus. Emmaus is a homelessness charity that provides more than a bed for the night; they offer a home, meaningful work and a sense of belonging to people who have experienced homelessness and social exclusion. The first Emmaus community was founded in Paris, in 1949, by Father Henri-Antoine Grouès, better known as Abbé Pierre, to build homes and provide social enterprise work for those who lived on the streets in the aftermath of the war. The work supported the community, funded the homes and provided value and self-worth to the members. More than 300 Emmaus communities exist in 36 countries worldwide. Through the work of Cambridge businessman Selwyn Image, who had spent time at a social enterprise in Paris, the first community in the UK opened in 1992; there are now 24 spread across the country from Glasgow to Dover with over 600 Emmaus companions. Each community has at least one shop or social enterprise, with many running successful cafés, shops, gardening projects and removal companies. You can find out more about Emmaus at www.emmaus.org.uk