Our Collective Journal

December 2011/January 2012

 

"I have often felt a motion of love to leave some hints in writing
of my experience of the goodness of God." 

--John Woolman  

 

Chapter 4

When have you encountered God's

Presence through a stranger?

 

 

From photo essay by Chelsea Smith,

West Hills Friends Medical Team Trip to Haiti 2011


Mon Ange

I was eighteen years old when I met my angel.

 

At age seventeen I was chosen for a fledgling study/work program in Switzerland run by an American professor and his wife. I would live in a chateau full of international students, study French, English literature and European history with the professor in the mornings, and help out with a little housework and cooking in exchange for my room and board. I packed everything I thought I would... [more]

 
 

How the Garbage Lady Saved Our Lives

A little over twenty years ago, we were floundering.  We'd become very disenchanted with most organized religion, despite a few long and intimate involvements with a variety of churches.  We'd served in administrative and lay capacities in several congregations, had close friends in the ministry, and other friends that we believed would identify themselves as devout Christians.  But something was missing for us.

 

We identified a lot with Gandhi, admiring Christ, but rejecting Christians as so... [more]

 
 

El Desconocido

I leaned into the rain.  It was an epic Texan downpour, the kind of sudden, intense rain the old folks call a gully-washer because it could turn Austin’s creeks into floodwaters in the blink of an eye.  I was on foot, soaked to the skin, no coat, a mile and a half from home… How had I gotten myself into this predicament?

 

Just then a battered pickup truck pulled over to the curb and I turned... [more]

 
 

Jesus Under a Streetlight

The East Hastings area of Vancouver, British Columbia is a rough neighborhood. I have volunteered in shelters in the Old Town area of Portland and I promise you, Portland has nothing to compare to this. Throngs of homeless people live on the sidewalks and in buildings that should be demolished. Many of them are drug addicts, so it has a desperation that you can almost taste. It felt to me like everyone was unpredictable and... [more]

 
 

Occupied with God

I spent November 12th and 13th of this year in solidarity with the Occupy Portland movement in response to the Mayor's demand that the protesters leave Lownsdale and Chapman parks.

 

Politics aside, there were many times during the day and night when I saw God's presence in the faces of strangers. I saw God's presence when I witnessed a police officer respectfully assist a disabled veteran protester out of an area in the camp that was... [more]

 
 

Overshadowed by Godís Presence

As I sit writing, I recall that one year ago today I was in critical condition in a twenty-five bed hospital in Jenin, occupied West Bank, Palestine. Although I was in a coma and have no memories of the almost three weeks that I spent in two Middle Eastern hospitals, friends and family have reconstructed those days that were full of God's presence and love that was shown, not by one stranger, but by many... [more]

 
 

The Patron Saint of Impossible Causes

It was a typical Sunday afternoon at Winco; harried shoppers crowded the aisles, jostling carts and mumbling terse apologies. As usual, I stopped in the Mexican food aisle. The exotic brands, bright colors and Spanish words always entrance me...and the candles! These votives feature Our Lady of Guadalupe in her sunburst aura and other saints less familiar to Anglo Americans. This time I gave them only a glance, in a hurry to complete a long... [more]

 
 

When Truth is Spoken in Love

Potluck in the Park is an organization that has been feeding the hungry every Sunday afternoon in downtown Portland, rain or shine, since 1991. Currently four to six hundred people in need show up on any given Sunday. On the second Sunday of every month, someone from West Hills Friends delivers about 200 pieces of fried chicken to Potluck in the Park. With a desire to serve God and witness the circumstances of others, I... [more]

 
 

The next table

Angel strolls down Southeast Hawthorne, raising his arms, making his baggy coat flare out like black wings. "Go out and buy things!" he yells to shoppers, who step a little livelier around his perimeter but are careful not to look at him. "Put them in your closet!" he urges. "Come back and buy more things!"

 

I'm sitting at a cafe table on the corner. Conor is at my feet, hoping for crumbs. I guess it's because... [more]

 
 

A Stranger in Istanbul

I once visited Istanbul, Turkey, on a cruise.  I boarded the last tour bus, which was only half-full.  I sat behind the other passengers, so that not only did I have a seat to myself, but an empty seat across from me.

 

I loved every part of Istanbul.  The buildings, the signs, the businesses, the people, the lush greenery between the buildings and on rooftops; it all just thrilled me.  I snapped pictures continuously, first from... [more]

 
 

Steve

In 1981 I lived in the Seattle area, and I decided to get involved in the train museum in Snoqualmie, Washington. I figured I would get out there early, while they were firing up their steam locomotive, and help somehow. There's usually plenty to do on a steam locomotive, so I figured they would have me wipe grease off the siderods or something.

 

By the time I finally got there, it was about an hour before... [more]

 
 

Mysticism and Magic

When I was in college, I took a class called Medieval Mysticism.  I had high expectations for that class.  I wanted something much more than an academic experience.  I wanted something much more than a grade on my transcript.  Yes!  I wanted to hear the voice of God in my ears.  I wanted to see a vision.  I wanted to feel the presence of God in a way that would change my life forever.

 

I went... [more]

 
 

The Raggedy Man

One day about ten years ago while I was living in California, I was driving back to my office at lunchtime when I noticed a man sitting on a bench at a bus stop.  His hat and clothes looked worn; his hair was longish, his beard unkempt.  He wasn’t begging or even looking outward, but my heart was strangely stirred to help him.  I had only a $5 bill to offer and considered driving to... [more]

 
 

Bend in Life's River

A few months ago, as I helped prepare my childhood home for market, I envisioned a new family living there, a couple with two little girls. Laughter rang through the long-empty house; children raced and tumbled over the hills and waded in the shallow stream, feasting on blackberries, apples, plums, and pears. The family raised a garden together and gathered by the wood stove on a cold winter’s evening, as we had. I was captivated!

 

From... [more]

 
 

Strangers on a Plane

We take as an article of faith that God is present everywhere, and that there is that of God in each of us, but I am still always amazed at the places God shows up to remind us of this fact – and the people God sends to remind us.  And one of the last places I expected God to show up was at the LA International Airport a few years ago when I was... [more]

 
 

Experience in Haiti

Last April, I went to Haiti with a medical team from West Hills Friends to provide free medical care in a clinic, and I'd like to tell you about one of the amazing spiritual experiences I had while working with "strangers” there.

 

I worked in the pharmacy, and one day the Creole translator called a 4-year-old boy to the window to take his liquid worm medicine.  The boy’s mother brought him forward, and his big brown... [more]

 
 

Awkward Awakening

Strangers – stalking – stealthily – somberly – swiftly

Strangely and awkwardly – to me at least – smiling

Waving my way – arms out – but cumbersome me

     Awkward – unknowing – “Who are you – what

     Foreign space or time brought you?”

 

Quickly – change the lenses – filter the light

May I dance back to back – now that’s not so bad –

     But I cannot see your face

     Look into your soul

     Catch a glimpse... [more]

 
 

 

Stories in this Chapter

 

Mon Ange

 

How the Garbage Lady Saved Our Lives

 

El Desconocido

 

Jesus Under a Streetlight

 

Occupied with God

 

Overshadowed by Godís Presence

 

The Patron Saint of Impossible Causes

 

When Truth is Spoken in Love

 

The next table

 

A Stranger in Istanbul

 

Steve

 

Mysticism and Magic

 

The Raggedy Man

 

Bend in Life's River

 

Strangers on a Plane

 

Experience in Haiti

 

Awkward Awakening