Painting of Jeremiah at the Visitor’s Center by Judy Lowman
The Liminal Space
I stopped three times before I finally found a shop still serving coffee last Christmas.
Notably, it was late in the evening when I chose to venture out after our family dinner. I had an important visit to make, and it was far too cold to show up without coffee.
My friend was in his usual spot, perched on a couple pieces of cardboard under the Galleria overhang. Nothing but the twinkling lights of downtown Fredericksburg spoke into that quiet winter evening, as we sat and sipped our coffee in silence. Not traffic, pedestrians or typical city noises pierced that lonely Christmas night.
“You know, tonight would be a really good night to go indoors,” I finally interrupted.
“Oh,” he chuckled. “I’m ok. I’m ok.”
We sat longer together, few words exchanged.
As I got up to go, I left him with the same offer many of us had given each night for the previous six months.
“There’s an apartment waiting for you Jeremiah. We all love you, and we hate that you are outside, especially on Christmas” I said. “I’ll take you there whenever you are ready to go.”
He nodded kindly and went back to carrying on with the voices in his mind.
I left without him that night, as I had many other nights since our ministry committed to renting a place and working as long as it took to get him in it.
It wasn’t exactly a surprise that he would turn me down. Our efforts to build relationship with Jeremiah, to care for him and get him back into housing had gone on for 27 years.
Somewhere in between his graduation from North Stafford High School in 1989 and the day he showed up homeless on the streets of Fredericksburg, he joined the army, served in Germany and changed his name three to four times.
While the surrounding details are largely missing with regard to the actual circumstances that brought Jeremiah to the street, his time outdoors and presence downtown made him a regular legend in our community. No matter how many people our ministry had shepherded off the street and lives we had seen restored, Jeremiah was always the one people wanted to know, “what we were going to do about.”
Years ago, it took many months of hiding lunches in a dumpster for him to trust the churches enough to attend a community meal. It took a lot of creativity to navigate him through the complex systems that issue identification, medical insurance and disability income. Likewise, getting him back into housing and engaged with appropriate support would be no small task.
Then, on the eve of an oncoming snowstorm, at a time when pandemic made congregate shelter an impossible offer, there was the night that he said “Yes.” He would go with me to sleep indoors at the apartment that had been waiting for him.
It was a little more than a month after my Christmas visit. It was my turn again to check in on our friend. Admittedly, I was quite exhausted from the day’s events. Fully expecting the same rejection, I almost didn’t stop. But on the slim chance my friend might choose a warm, dry bed vs. the snow on the way, I went anyway.
I found Jeremiah and about five others at the visitor’s center. He turned me down immediately and I went over to talk to the others for a few moments.
“Are you sure you won’t come with me,” I said once more before I left.
“Where exactly is it,” he said. I described the location as I tried to control the heart beats that had then leapt into my throat.
“Ok. I’d like to give it a try,” he said.
Jeremiah would help me make his bed that night. He would wake the next morning on his own time, not when the plow trucks rolled down Caroline St; and he would watch the snow fall through a window. Weeks later he would shovel his own sidewalk, wash his own laundry and wheel his trash to the curb.
Spring would come. He would help his neighbor mow the grass and his case manager to hang a bird house in the back yard. He would walk to the corner store and return. He would heat his own meals and tend to his own room.
And this Christmas, he would greet carolers at his door and share table and season’s blessings with those who have loved him.
Jeremiah will have been home for twelve full months in just a few more weeks.
In a year that has struck us so profoundly with the deaths of 31 current and formerly homeless neighbors, victories like Jeremiah’s remind us that God’s work is less about the keys we distribute, the services we provide and the people we “fix.” It is more about how we join the holy spirit within the liminal space, the wilderness, in which our neighbors find themselves.
Author and Franciscan priest Richard Rohr explains liminal space as the time between stages of life. It is a place of transition, waiting and not knowing.
“It is where we are betwixt and between the familiar and completely unknown,” he says. “This is the sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed. If we don’t encounter liminal space in our lives, we start idealizing normalcy.”
While the space between is brief for some, and a lifetime for others, our wildernesses always make it difficult to see God most clearly.
Between is a frightening place to be.
Knowing that God chose to take on human form and dwell among us, however, frees us from our restlessness and invites us to a place of comfort in the unknown and excitement of what is to come.
The message version of John 1: 1-18 says, “The word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood…. No one has ever seen God, not so much as a glimpse. This one of a kind God expression..has made him plain as day.”
As lovers of God and lovers of neighbor, this passage calls us to be more than a tourist in the lives of people who are different from us. As God through the human form of Christ “pitched a tent” alongside us, learned our language, and came to be fully part of the world in which we live, might we embrace that example as we seek to love our neighbor more in 2022.
Happy New Year!
“The word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood….
No one has ever seen God, not so much as a glimpse. This one of a kind God expression..has made him plain as day.”
John 1: 1-18
Join our Team
Looking for an opportunity to literally end homelessness for neighbors moving off the street or our of shelters and into housing? Our community needs someone with tenant agent skills to build relationships with landlords, find units and help move people into safe and stable homes. APPLY NOW to be our community’s housing locator.