Early on, in our homeless tent community, we had very little.
We didn't have laundry. We didn't have a shower. We didn't have computers or a food pantry or a clothes room.
We had nothing other than ourselves.
There was just some land in the back of a building where a few people put a few tents in the winter.
Even though we had little, or maybe because we had little, the magic was powerful.
There was a deep sacred feeling that is nearly indescribable.
This was the time and space where I came back to God.
God was right there with us. You could nearly reach out and touch God.
The truth is, God is always right there with us. But we are so covered up with costumes and masks and busyness that God becomes totally invisible.
Just as we can't see the stars in the city because of light pollution, we can't see God because of life pollution.
You see, all the things we think define us are actually erasing us.
Your car is not you. Your address is not you. Your job is not you. Your clothes are not you. Your food is not you. Your phone is not you. Your Netflix account is not you.
We think we are creating a life. But truly all we are creating is one giant distraction.
I know that now because of the time I've had the privilege of spending with the homeless.
Losing everything makes everything clear.
This isn't some voodoo I'm making up. This has been a significant part of some religious journeys for thousands of years.
From here: Asceticism - Wikipedia:
"Contemporary mainstream Islam practices asceticism in the form of fasting during Ramadan by abstaining from all sensual pleasures, food & water from sunrise until sunset. The observation of fasting during Ramadan is purely done for God and to increase one's spiritual connection with God; it is compulsory on all Muslims to fast as it is one of the Five Pillars of Islam."
And some Christians observe Lent which is meant to replicate the sacrifice of Jesus Christ's journey into the Judaean Desert for 40 days where he fasted.
When you strip away the things of the world you are just left with God. It's undeniable.
People will often tell me that they sit in their tent just talking to God. Just them and God.
God isn't a person. God isn't a place. God isn't a thing.
God is all beings, all places, all things.
This is what you come to see when you give up all things of the world. The path you are meant to travel illuminates like a spotlight shining on it.
One of the most jarring interactions I experienced early on in our village was these people telling me how blessed they were.
I would come into the building in the middle of winter. I had spent all night sleeping in my bed in my warm house. These people had spent all night sleeping in a tent in the bitter cold.
They would ask me how I was. I'd say "fine". I'd ask them how they were and they'd respond, "I'm blessed!"
This wasn't some sort of platitude. It was clear they meant it.
Living in a tent in a community is worlds better than living in a cardboard box alone in the woods. It's undeniable. And they understood that reality crystal clear.
People often say that the best thing we've provided for people at our village is "community."
That's not the full, true story.
The community came because God became visible.
You can't understand the value of your community if you can't understand why your community is valuable.
Most of us today avoid community by pushing it out with all our things and activities in hopes those things will fill that space in our lives.
But of course they never do.
Community is hard and makes us vulnerable. That's why we avoid it.
Middle class America does not like the thought that we are not self-sufficient islands of autonomous free will.
Low income America knows the fallacy of that theory. They are all community all the time.
Homeless America knows that community is life. Community is food, shelter, dignity and self-worth.
And that's the message of God.
We are meant to learn the lesson of community.
Christianity calls it "love." I sometimes feel that message has been misunderstood at this point in time.
God is connection. God is letting go. God is a free fall into the arms of the universe. That's what "love" means.
We are so attached to the things of the world that letting go so extremely is nearly impossible.
But that's what the homeless did. They were thrown off the cliff of life into the universe of nothingness. And when someone caught them they were filled with love and joy and immense feelings of blessedness.
They became nothing but pure love and gratitude.
They became God.