by Dharmaholder Fleet Shinryu Maull
The sharing by the women in our afternoon council after their return from the women’s shelter called, “The Gathering Place,” were more than I could have imagined. They seem to have shared an experience of having a direct encounter with the divine, manifest through the women then met at the shelter, both the staff and the clients, and in particular one homeless woman they shared lunch with. They came back from the shelter beaming and in tears. Having been on the streets for 4 days, spending time in very rough environments around mostly men, some of whom acted in very unconscious and aggressive ways toward women, the safe, nurturing and empowered environment at the women’s shelter was not only a relief, but a revelation by their accounts. I will leave it to the women to write further of their experience. For our last evening, we divided the group. We had been invited for dinner and the Thursday night service at the Catholic Worker house. Not wanting to overwhelm them with our numbers, we sent eight, and the other seven of us spent the evening hanging out at the Network Cafe. The group who went to the Catholic Worker came back again beaming and in tears, after spending an evening full of love, spirit and authentic presence with the wonderful Catholic Worker community. Our friend, Father Tom, who we always see the St. Francis Center for the big Wednesday meal, said the Mass in such a way as to include people of all faiths and all stations and circumstances in life. Fr. Tom who models for me the contemplative life of engaged spirituality teaches a course in Contemplative Christianity at Naropa University. I went with the group to the Network Cafe, a wonderful little gathering place about six blocks east of the state capitol building open to the homeless in the evenings, 6 to 8:30 pm most evenings. I listen to a very interesting character for about 2 hours who calls himself the voice of the homeless and who apparently has attempted to run for Mayor of Denver. He has a place to live now, but still hangs at the Network Cafe and certainly knew the homeless scene inside and out a lot of interesting history too. We all met up again on the 16th street mall around 9:30 pm as usual. We were approached by to different groups of young Christians. One group was inviting us to a soup line they do on the streets, at Champa and 15th just a block off the mall every Thursday. They’ve been doing it for three years now. The other group offered water bottles and power bars and offered to pray for us. We asked them to pray for our Ethiopian friend Daniel who was hanging out with us and needed help finding a job. We then went to see the other group doing the soup line. They served us tacos and hot chocolate, an interesting and at the time delicious combination.Ê We ran into a number of our homeless acquaintances at the soup line, and the women in our group had wonderful conversations with the young Christian women with the group serving the tacos and hot chocolate. From this and many other encounters during the week, we all discovered a new found appreciation for Christian ministry. One can say what one wants about fundamentalist or “born again” Christians, but I tell you, they are the ones serving and ministering to the poor and homeless on our streets. Some lay on the preaching a little strong, but most offer only food, caring and love. Many of the mainstream churches offer meals as well. The Trinity Methodist church at 18th and Broadway serves a very wholesome meal three days a week with no preaching at all, just smiles and words of encouragement. Young children come hand you your plate as you walk it I’m just about to burst into tears now remembering how sweet those children were. A small Episcopal church offers a wonderful meal on Tuesday evenings, preceded by a service where the priest, a woman, comes out into the pews and holds everyone’s hand letting them know they are love with amazing genuineness and authentic presence.
Our last night on the streets, we didn’t feel comfortable returning to our sleeping spot of the previous three nights. Too many people on the streets were aware of us now and some of questionable intent may have been aware of where we were sleeping. We found a new spot down alongside the South Platte River, which turned out to be a very cold spot on the coldest night out yet. A lot of us shivered as much as we slept. We arose to beautiful blue skies though, packed up our bags and picked up our cardboard to return it to the dumpsters and headed downtown for our last meal on the streets. We went to a ministry I’d never been to before that serves a pancake breakfast on Friday mornings. The atmosphere was quite and subdued, even reflective as the 75 or so homeless men and women waited and then ate their breakfasts. The Christian volunteers served the meal through a window opening between the small kitchen and dining hall. They had two griddles going cooking the pancakes. When you arrived at the window, you stood their while they served you blueberry pancakes right off the griddle to go with the eggs and sausages already on the plate. The kindness and love that this food carried was amazing. We had all come to the realization over the days of the retreat, that while the quality of the food varied considerably and much of it might be considered not so great under other circumstances, it was all Prasad-blessed or holy food.
We held our final mediation and council from 10 am to 12 noon at Civic Center Park and we’re joined by Michael, the elderly homeless man who had give us meditation instruction days earlier, and our friend Jaime, who has sat in many of our circles. Michael sat with us and chanted the Feeding the Hungry Spirits liturgy and then shared beautifully in our council, talking about his own struggles with drug addictions and sharing his insights about the path- being quite well versed in Buddhist teachings.
Before closing, I would just like to mention some of the names of our sangha, street retreat participants and those who joined us during the week: Annie, Ari, Melissa, Kelly, Rob, Kuba, Liz, Allen, Tim, Amelia, Victoria, Nines, Wren, Lisa, Jaime, Michael, Jersey Mike, Chris, Louie, Fr. Tom and Anna- and many more. My fellow retreatants could name many more and I hope they will as they write their journals and reports of the retreat.
Peace, love and blessings,