Compass Points

We each approach God from our own unique perspective. Sometimes it is hard to understand where in the world our brother is coming from, which makes it all the more gratifying to meet him at the center of our faith, at the foot of the cross. We need have nothing in common to be brothers in the body of Christ.

I learned this last Thursday night from a homeless man on a bus. “Troy” was painstakingly explaining to me how to draw the radials of a circle, and the relationship of various radials to the hours on a clock. He was hoping this demonstration of geometry could help him land a job somewhere. Troy and I spent the weekend together at a religious retreat. Troy came to the retreat for his reasons, I came for mine. I was looking to recharge my religious batteries. Troy was looking for a couple warm nights under a roof and reliable meals. We both found what we were looking for. We sat together throughout the retreat. Troy didn’t share much, but he listened a lot.

It would be a more interesting story to say that Troy had a fascinating life, or he is some sort of savant who gave me the secret of the universe, or he found a home. But reality, as it often is, was much less dramatic. Much of the time, Troy seemed somewhat lost in the midst of the theology. He was willing to speak up if asked, his thoughts sincere but confusing to the rest of us.

Like many people who wander the streets, he had a defensive shield that prevented me or anyone else from understanding him or getting too close. One night, our assignment was to take a walk with a partner and share something about our own faith journey. We talked and I saw glimpses of Troy’s life. Hints of a family tragedy, trouble with the law, and connections to other parts of the country that were broken for reasons not clear to me. And like a cliche so worn it didn’t need to be stated, alcohol was interwoven through the story. He said that he was going to give his dad a call, and maybe go home. I hope that is true, but I have my doubts.

At the end of the retreat, we thanked one another for our time together and then returned to our different universes. Mine a Midwest, middle class, midlife existence. His a secret campsite behind a church in the Northwest. We have nothing in common. He was called there to fulfill a need in his life, and so was I. Why? I am not wise enough to answer that question. Maybe he needed a reminder that there is a home and a family in another part of the world that waits for him to call. Maybe I needed to have my shy veneer pried open and strengthened by exposure to people who don’t fit in my clean, sanitary world. For a few days, our individual radials led us to the same center. And Someone who knows both worlds saw the need to bring them together. That is enough for me.

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2 thoughts on “Compass Points

  1. I was the guy on the other side of Troy from you. Thank you for your kindness toward him, and for all your contributions to the retreat. We on the team who put on the retreat are trying to figure out what support we can offer Troy to help him. He mentioned he couldn’t see the music or prayer sheets well enough to read them; we may start with an eye exam and a pair of glasses.

  2. I also appreciated very much your insightful comments about your experience at the retreat and Troy. I like the idea of following up with support for Troy. Count me in.

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