When I worked with the Missionaries of Charity, I worked alongside a man named Peter. He was an artist and was consumed by a nearly manic passion for people who lived on the margins of society. We would talk for hours late at night, after our work was done, about our experiences during the day. I recently recalled one conversation that I kept in my journal. It was an especially remarkable exchange that left an indelible impression on me. Whatever it was that Peter said, I had taken it to prayer and later wrote it down this way:
Tom, there are times when I feel reality is so thin, almost translucent, like I could almost reach my hand out and it would pass into the next world. You know what I mean? It’s happened to me since I was a child, but it happens more than anywhere else here, among all of these people who’ve lives lives mostly ignored, sometimes despised or, if they’re lucky, pitied … I think I feel this this because these Sisters have made this hospice into an antechamber to Paradise. These residents here see it too, even though they wouldn’t say it that way. They know there’s something more “home” about this place than anywhere else they’ve been. They say it all the time, right? “This place is the home I never had.”
Maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s why reality seems so thin here. Wherever there’s “home,” there’s heaven. God’s home. God’s not hidden here, He’s right around the corner, in the next room. But isn’t it just like God to make this kind of place, full of outcasts, more His home than anywhere else? Whenever the homeless gather, trusting the Christians will house them, God is at pains to get about home-building. Almost like He’s stretching the veil to the ripping point because He’s so anxious to get this home built. Seems like an excellent way to think about the church! It’s meant to be a destabilizing place, pushing us out of our comfort zones. The church is the leading edge of God’s anxiety, His childlike impatience, the place on earth where God frenetically builds homes for the homeless. Jesus, who is God at home among us (John 1:14), said before His death He had to leave so He could get to work on building a home for us with tons of rooms (John 14:2-3). But He can’t wait until we get there. He wants to get to work on it now, here, with us. So maybe church is really just God’s elaborate “habitat for humanity” where He sets about the work of home-making for the orphans and widows and strangers who are really just wandering around looking for a home; looking for the world as it was supposed to be from the beginning.
Maybe that’s why I feel things are so “thin” here, more than anywhere, because there are homeless here and God is freaking out to get His home built. Yeah and so Christians are supposed to be the most convincing sign in the whole world that God up in heaven wants to make the world Our common home (Rev. 21:3!). God’s whole salvation strategy is to rebuild the home we broke as frustrated and angry children having a cosmic temper tantrum. We flipped our world over in Eden and now God is patiently flipping it right-side up again. And He’s inviting us to calm our passions and help Him rebuild it all again.