I shuffle along, carrying meagre possessions in a nylon holdall. My back is aching causing me to stoop slightly, my beard itches and an injured knee is painful to put weight on.
Limping along the dirty pavement, crowded with commuters I am jostled and sworn at in their haste, for getting in their way. I grip the bag handle tighter, frightened of being robbed again as I rub the bruise on my cheek in memory. What little I have, including the clothing I wear, has been provided by the charity of others, and is enough to keep me for another week. I pray it will; the stained sleeping bag, a woollen jumper and a change of underclothes, the bar of soap and a frayed towel – they will preserve my dignity for a while longer…
I badly need a warm drink, something to eat and ideally, a painkiller after the night spent in the back doorway of a cinema, under cardboard. It had been very cold despite the extra jumper, and my body aches. At sixty six, I am unaccustomed to this life and the long hours passed slowly. At least it had been a peaceful night, Thank God – no one had tried to vomit or urinate on me, as they did sleeping rough in the town centre. My lips move in silent prayer in a determined bid to distract from the pain, as my feet make their way to the local hostel for succour.
I deliberately make no eye contact with anyone and keep my gaze low. Now, on this bright Autumnal afternoon, I have cause to count my blessings. I ate well this morning, welcomed with many others, to a feast of oatmeal, toast and hot tea, by cheerful staff who don’t judge or ask awkward questions. On leaving to continue my journey, they had allowed me a small box of Paracetamol and bandaged my knee for support. I sit mid-afternoon, here in the park and savour my cheese and pickle sandwich, the last of their welcome gifts. I don’t usually enjoy pickle much, but today, in the warm sunshine, it tastes fantastic. Leaves skitter around my feet and a light breeze blows around my upturned face. In a woolly hat , my head is snug, as are my poor hands, clad in fingerless gloves. As they grip the bag handles once more, I thank God for his bounty and stand, to go on once more.
My way continues, taking shelter with others where we may, relying on the scant charity of strangers and small organisations for the homeless, wherever we can find them. They are sporadic, very basic but oh, so welcome and badly needed. I talk with my fellow men and women, beset with traumas and tales of hard times, and I grieve for them all. What strange love our God and shepherd has, for this misguided flock. People of all ages and abilities fending for themselves in the backwash of society. Rich and poor alike shun us, as we make our way. This goes beyond the ideals of state. Often, only the goodness of different faiths manages to sustain us as we, weary and despairing , submit gratefully to their help. Jesus demonstrates love in his telling of the good samaritan, although not many choose to hear it. After only two long weeks, I long to stem this tide of destitute humanity…
I stare up at the cathedral built with majestic pillars, beautiful carvings and paintings to glory God and humble his penitents. Stumbling out of the brightness and into the dim interior, I walk down the nave and kneel stiffly in obeisance at the altar rail. A sound at my side, I turn to see a perplexed deacon, staring down at me… confused by my appearance
“ My lord bishop ! “ he exclaims “ You’re back ? God be praised !”
Image courtesy of Pravmir.com