February 2011


At Huddles last Sunday, we talk about the significance of embracing a rhythm of rest and work, and the gift of the Sabbath to us from God as a means of beginning to do that. It turns out that last Saturday on 2/12 in ‘The Times’ of London, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was considering the same topic. Here are a few words of wisdom from him regarding Sabbath keeping:

“[Sabbath] is the day when, for the most part, we [Jews] put technology aside. We don’t watch television, answer e-mails, switch on our computer or smartphone. In the synagogue and at home we spend real time with real people. The Sabbath builds communities, strengthens marriages and gives parents and children undistracted time with one another.”

“… It is, in other words, the perfect antidote to the negative effects of the web… The Sabbath teaches us about limits and the ability to say no. It tells us to take time out to focus on what really matters: the important as opposed to the urgent. It gives our most significant relationships the time and space to breathe. It keeps us human, reminding us that we are the masters of technology, not its slaves.”

“I thank God for the Sabbath because, reconnecting to Him, I find it easier to reconnect to others without the interruptions and distractions of the latest i-miracles, wondrous though they are. The soul needs its silences in the midst of the web chatter and the electronic noise.”

We as Christians could do well to learn much from the sacred practice of Sabbath keeping our Jewish friends uphold especially in our technologically ever-demanding world.

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My last blog post told about my initial encounter with Cherie, a woman who spends many hours at the north end of the 181st St Station on the A line.

That was on Friday.  I saw her again on Saturday. Ironically I was on my way to Harlem to help with an outreach effort to the homeless that was a collaboration between a number of churches and non-profit groups including Redeemer. I was curious to see if Cherie would remember me and in particular if she would recall my name. She did – on both accounts.   When she recognized me, she smiled and I was encouraged.  As before, I sat down beside her and we chatted for a few minutes.  She asked me if I was going to work.  I told her about where I was going and what for. “Oh that’s interesting,”  Then I added that I didn’t usually work on Saturdays. “Oh is it Saturday today?” she asked.  That surprised me but of course she would have no particular reason to know what specific day it was. I sense one day blends into another for her, with nothing specific to distinguish one from the next.

That afternoon returning home around dinner time, it was damp and dreary outside. I was looking forward to getting inside my warm, cozy apartment. Instead of getting off at 190th which I usually do when I’m going north, I wanted to look for Cherie.   I found her on the mezzanine level at 181 St sitting in the exact same spot that she’d been in 5 hours before. “Have you been here the whole time?” I asked in disbelief. “Well, no, I got me a coffee and a grilled cheese,” she responded. “So you have money then?” I asked displaying great ignorance about the reality of her life.  “Well, folks give me a dollar here and there.”  Quickly changing the subject because I’m conflicted about whether I should give her any money, I said, “I have something for you.”  It was a red fleece sleeveless vest from Don’t  Walk By that Tiffany had given to me for her.  All the event staff were wearing  them that afternoon, including me, and they had looked really great when we were inside registering folks to do outreach.  But seeing her sitting there huddled in a tired looking winter coat, covering untold other layers, and a woolen scarf wrapped around her head, it actually looked pathetic.  No only did it not have sleeves which one probably prefers if one is sleeping rough but “I can’t close it up,” she concluded.  And of course she was right.  So instead, I offered her a ziploc bag of Triscuits which I hadn’t eaten that afternoon.  Paltry, I know. 

I headed home out of the miserable evening, and left Cherie warming her usual seat in the station.

This morning on my way to work, I did something I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never done before. In my 20 years of living in New York.   I sat down and spoke to a homeless woman (whose name is Cherie) who lives in my subway station.

I’ve seen her most mornings – and some evenings – for the past few months. During warmer seasons last year, I noticed her sleeping on a bench in Fort Tryon Park.  In these cold winter weeks, the wooden seats at the north end of the station at 181st St seems to have become her current spot.  I usually just walk by, deliberately not making eye contact, hoping she won’t notice me, or say anything.

But I  had begun to be convicted that I was not just ignoring her, but that I saw myself as better than her.  And I saw her therefore as not worth my time and attention.  But on Saturday, Scott spoke at our Beyond the Basics training about being convicted that he’d never taken the time to learn the name of the homeless man at his subway station.  And Elise shared about how she had once not fled a subway car when all other riders did, but instead how a homeless man, sat beside her and was surprised that she did not get up and leave.  And I recently heard a sermon reminding me that we are all infinitely precious in God’s eyes.  So somewhere along the way, I realized my attitude toward my resident (pun intended)  homeless person had to change.  I had to see her as person just like me with a story, with needs, and wants and hopes and desires and hurts.

So I came through the turnstiles on my way to work and there she was, her head wrapped in a scarf, and unlit cigarette in her hand.  She paid no notice of me, but  I sat down at the other end of the row of seats.  Self conscious and awkward, I immediately pulled out my Blackberry and began scanning work emails.  Once I was finished, the train still had not come, so I turned toward her, hesitating. I realized I was actually fearful of approaching her,  unsure of how she would react.  But I soon concluded how ridiculous that was.  So I started off with ‘Excuse me Miss, would you like some fruit, some grapes?”   She turned her head, looked at me, and her eyes lit up.  I got up and gave her a small bag of green grapes.  Then, I sat down beside her and we started talking.  

Her name is Sharon, but I can call her Cherie.  She usually sleeps in the station.  She has a step father in the Bronx, but right now is “working out some problems of her own”.  She used to have an Aunt in the neighborhood when she was 14 or 15 and that’s how she knows Washington Heights.  I gave her the HFNY resource card, and talked about shelters and the relief bus. She seemed mildly interested and then I heard my train coming.  I shook her hand, she smiled, and that was it.

I made a new connection in my neighborhood today. 

And it felt humbling to reach out to Cherie.

Don’t know when I’ll see her again.

Perhaps as soon as tomorrow.