This past week I stood in the garden of a local church where eight of us gathered to remember the life of a man who lived homeless for the last several years. Mr. Vilaythong was a gentle person with a generous spirit. Several people from FUMCFW’s Room In the Inn program knew him.
Representing churches and social service and medical workers, we stood on the outside edge of a stone labyrinth to honor the man’s life and to reflect on our place in it. The sweet smell of purple petunias lay gently on the late spring breeze. Words carved in a stone wall of the garden read: I will dwell in the house of the Lord all my days.
One of the people who said words about the man had been his nurse. I watched her standing there straight and tall, clear voiced. Her scrubs, which these days command respect, were adorned by a stethoscope around her neck.
She spoke of how caring for him reminded her of her days of being the child of a missionary and receiving the care and assistance of strangers in a foreign land. And now she felt she had been able to return that blessing caring for the man who came here from a land far from his home. She said that she and her colleagues had spoken his name several times in the last few days.
In biblical tradition there is a clarion call to care for the stranger, the poor, the sick. Jesus called them the least, and though I think sometimes we can overuse that word to the point of setting ourselves too far above and too far apart from them, still the man we remembered qualified. Homeless, sick, and foreigner.
Metaphorically we could say that we are all homeless, sick, and foreigners, but the stretch is too far. Perhaps it is best to let the labyrinth make its quiet statement that there is one way in and one way out of life. Walking our paths, Mr. Vilaythong and each of us gathered there had met in our small part of the house of the Lord. Within that expanse, there was an exchange of honor and love which reached through the normal walls of our lives.
Surely, goodness and mercy follows us all the days of our lives.