A Way in the City

I step off the subway at the Park Street stop and walk up the dark staircase that takes me out to the Boston Common. It’s still dark and winter is all around me. The annual tree lighting ceremony has taken place and the lights shine brightly in this early morning hour.

White, twinkly lights brighten other trees in the area as well – symbolic of the season. But despite the attempts at magic and celebration, all the lights and decorations in the world can’t hide the homeless man who I just passed, can’t hide the dirt of yesterdays’ tourists, can’t hide the brokenness of the city.

All around me I see evidence of this brokenness. It is in the glum, moodiness of passers-by. It is in the grocery cart pushed by the homeless woman, piled high with bottles and filthy blankets. It is in the impatient honking of a car, driver angry at the vehicle in front of him. It is in the sadness in the eyes of the young woman on the street.

It’s the world of Isaiah 35 – A world of the blind, the mute, the lame, the broken.

A world that needs the hope of the Incarnation, the joy of redemption.

And in the quiet of the city morning, the melody of Joy to the World comes faintly, unexpected. I can barely make out the words and I don’t know where it’s coming from. I wonder if it’s in my head, a trick of my mind. But as I walk it gets louder and there is no mistaking Mariah Carey’s strong soprano “Joy to the World, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King…..No more let sin and sorrow reign, nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make his glories known, far as the curse is found….” It’s a song of redemption in a weary city; a God-breathed reminder that our world has not been abandoned.

This is the everlasting Joy that Isaiah speaks of — that our God will come; our God has come. This is the joy in the desert, the joy in the city, the joy of the redeemed. The joy of a rainy Monday in a bleak December.

(This piece was originally written for an Advent Devotional produced by Park Street Church)

Boston Common Christmas Tree – Early Morning Hours

I want to thank so many of you who shared yesterday’s post “It’s not the way it’s supposed to be!” I purposely didn’t post on Saturday feeling like there were no words and that was best. I know some of your stories, and I know that you are keenly aware that it’s not the way it’s supposed to be – and yet at the end of the day, you have hope. Thank you – it shouts to me from your comments and emails.

The “60 Minutes” Rule

Freedom Trail path on a red brick sidewalk in ...

For the past 6 years I have worked as a public health nurse in state government, promoting health access and prevention in under-served communities.   There is a rule in state government; unspoken but implicitly understood: The ‘60 Minutes‘ rule.  If anything you’re doing could end up on 60 minutes then you may want to reconsider the wisdom of the activity.  The last thing the state wants is a front page news article on questionable activities of one of their employees.

This crossed my mind last week as I walked to the subway heading home from work.  It was mid-week, cold, and I was reasonably excited to get home.  The area  where I work is in a fairly congested part of Boston.  While no comparison to larger metropolitan areas, for the city of Boston this stretch is busy and densely populated. Located right on the Freedom Trail, 2 blocks from Boston Common and one block from the historic King’s Chapel the area sees a variety of colorful personalities daily. Dark-suited white-collar bankers get coffee along side construction workers. Students of all ages from all over the world bump into ever-present tourists with vague lost looks on their faces, and always the homeless. No one really thinks about it – the homeless are just there, like guards at every street corner, carrying cups for spare change.

As I quickly walked, dodging people and vendors, there in the middle of the sidewalk was a woman who’s back was to me.  She was small and thin with long hair, greying both from age and circumstance.  A sign hung from her shoulders down her back, the words “Hungry, Homeless, Diabetic, Neuropathy” written in large red magic marker.  I passed by thinking about something far more pressing in my world and at the end of the sidewalk stopped.  I suddenly realized what I had witnessed and ignored.  Her legs were black from disease, open sores showing above a bandaged area, she was shaking in the cold, and we were all pretty much avoiding her.  No lets change that: I was pretty much avoiding her.

The ’60 Minutes’ story flashed through my brain:

“Nurse travels 10,000 miles to help flood victims in Pakistan but ignores homeless woman on doorstep”.

It was a distressing headline to see, it was even worse when it went from my head to my heart.  How was I going to defend my actions and my apathy when faced with a headline that damning?

The end of the story is that I did go back – I wish it hadn’t taken the egotistical fear of being publicly caught and shamed.  I’m hopeful that next time it won’t. “Truly what you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine you did unto me”.

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