Did you see the report on the group of men who took part in a spiritual retreat in Austin, Texas during Holy Week?
It seems the leader of a homeless ministry in that city leads such a group of "seekers" onto the streets for three days. The goal of the retreat is "to connect with God" by striping away the normal creature comforts of the participants. The intention is to "walk among the poor as Jesus did" to grasp the power of the resurrection. Appropriate Easter theme.
One of the participants commented, "We're made aware again just how much of a chasm there is between who we are and who we could be." You know, there but for the grace of God go I.
Another confesses that he wants to "see Jesus in the faces of people who live here permanently." The experience of detachment from the materialism of his normal life causes him to feel like
"standing on a mountaintop and shouting 'Don't you see where the peace is?'"
Such analysis always prompts me to think or to say, "Wonder if the homeless and the impoverished frame their poverty in such joyous, spiritual terms?"
One of the men is a retired theology professor who reported that he has been thinking about the randomness of his situation compared to the homeless people he will meet on the streets. "You meet people in the world who are really powerless. The shoe could be on the other foot." He makes a clear connection between his experience on the streets among the very poor and a personal discovery of how Jesus shared in the human condition during his life.
I expect this little group of Holy Week pilgrims discovered great benefit in their short-term street experience. I expect they learned a great deal from the experience, including new insights about themselves.
But, am I the only person put off by the entire concept?
Wouldn't a more productive way to escape the troublesome limits of materialism involve giving and sharing the wealth and the goods that success brings on a consistent basis? I mean, is it really a good thing to use the poor to grow spiritually in such come and go fashion?
How about forming a new spiritual commitment to doing the hard, daily work of battling poverty on as many fronts and in as many ways as are both possible and necessary to see things actually change?
Maybe these men leave the streets more committed than ever to put an end to homelessness in the Texas capitol. But the report I read in the Austin American-Statesman did not mention such new resolve born of the group's Lenten repentance.
To presume to "come and go" for my own personal "spiritual benefit" seems to raise lots of questions that don't have very satisfying answers.
Maybe it's just me. What do you think?