“This is the kind of fast I’m after…to provide the poor wanderer with shelter.”
Isaiah 58: 7
New International Version
A Protective Shelter
“Shelter” – Providing cover and protection. A refuge or haven from storm or harm.
Has someone ever provided me with “shelter”?
“May I be a protector of the helpless,
a guide to those traveling the path,
a boat to those wishing to cross over,
or a bridge or a raft.
May I be a lamp for those
Left in darkness,
A home for the homeless,
And a servant to the world.”
Several years ago, I was invited to tour a new facility in Los Angeles which had been opened to shelter and provide training, specifically for men who found themselves homeless and residing on what is called “skidrow”. As I drove to the facility, a sad sight met my eyes as a line of men waited to receive a hot meal outside the front door.
After entering the building, the director of the organization took me on a tour of the new “housing” unit then asked, “Would you like to interview some of the people here?” I was eager to speak with some of the men who had found shelter from the cold, mean, street-life they had grown accustomed to.
I’ll never forget talking with one man. When he told me his age, I was completely surprised for the lines on his face made him look much older than forty. As we talked, he began to pour out a tale of incredible sadness.
Indeed, he had had a tough childhood followed by a turbulent and unsuccessful marriage. He’d taken to drinking and lost the one thing that made him feel worthwhile – his job. Then one day, the unthinkable happened. He found himself on the streets – no money, no car, and no place to call home.
As I looked at this man, I tried to visualize what his mother might have dreamed for her baby when she held him in her arms. She could never have thought her son would end up on the streets. She had died when he was a young child. So she wasn’t around to protect him. To shelter him with her love. And nobody else was either.
I’ve wondered, as my thoughts return to that day and place, what could have been done to make it different for those individuals. And I wonder “Would a kind word a helpful hand, or a warm meal have changed things?”
Sometimes when we hear the word shelter, we think it means we bring someone into our home to live with us – and this may be what we are called to do.
However, the word shelter has a much broader meaning. I can shelter or protect someone by speaking up for them when they need an advocate. I can shelter someone in my arms who is feeling the cutting knife of despair slicing through their world. I can shelter someone who has faced abuse and needs a place of safety – a refuge.
As the poet, George Eliot so eloquently wrote:
“May every soul that touches mine—
be it the slightest contact –
Get therefore some good;
Some little grace, one kindly thought;
One aspiration yet unfelt;
One bit of courage
For the darkening sky;
One gleam of faith
To brave the thickening ills of life;
One glimpse of brighter skies
Beyond the gathering mist –
To make their life worthwhile.”
This is what the word shelter means in practical terms. It means I wrap you in my love.
“ Expect to pass through this world but once,
any good thing therefore, that I can do or any
kindness that I can show to any fellow creature,
let me do it now.
Let me not defer or neglect it,
for I shall not pass this way again.”
open my eyes that I may see the needs of others;
open my ears that I may hear their cries;
open my heart so that they need not be without succor;
let me not be afraid to defend the weak because of the
anger of the strong,
nor afraid to defend the poor because of the
anger of the rich.
Show me where love and hope and faith are needed,
And use me to bring them to those places.
And so open my eyes and my ears
That I may this coming day be able to do some work of
peace for thee.”
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