Women and Men for Others: Moments of Grace in the Margins

In this series, Women and Men for Others, I’ve invited people I’ve met over the years to share what God has made known to them about how to use their gifts and life experiences for the good of others, truly putting their prayer into action and living the Ignatian principle of being a person for and with others. This week, Retreat Director and Spiritual Director Marian Monahan, shares about the moments of grace she has received in serving people on the margins that enable her to continue the work of being a person for and with others.

It’s Friday morning in Atlanta and the traffic is, well, Atlanta traffic. The road warriors who live here know just what I mean. I’m about 35 miles away from my destination, heading to City of Refuge this particular Thursday morning in Atlanta’s Westside. I will visit with a few women in recuperative care at the Mercy Care clinic located there and then head across the driveway to another building where I will facilitate a spirituality group for about 10 or 12 women. The traffic comes to a crawl and I grumble and grouse: it’s early and I haven’t had my 2nd cup of coffee, I’m tired and I wonder if I will get there on time, how many will show and if I should just tell Sister Kathy I think I’m done…

Then I arrive (90 minutes later) and the miracle happens! Happy and grateful to be here with them, hearing their stories, encouraging them and feeling honored to be able to be in their presence. They are still standing after being knocked down so many times by addiction, abuse, rejection, poverty, mental illness. They are my sisters and I learn from them.

I’ve been asked to share some thoughts about my involvement with Mercy Care and the Ignatian Spirituality Project (ISP), anotherbeautiful nonprofit in service to men and women in addiction recovery who have also experienced homelessness.

ISP is currently in almost 30 cities in the US and Canada and offers overnight retreats and days of reflection that blend Ignatian spirituality with the 12 Steps, a wonderful marriage of God centered activities that are also very much grounded in the experience of the retreatants. I’ve been a team member for almost 10 years and can say that it has been a privilege and a joy to be with these women. Although the women who attend each event are mostly new each time, many of their stories are similar. They share their courage, strength and hope as they work hard to change their lives which have been full of wrong turns and wounding. This is no easy task but every little bit helps and we have found that these simple retreats and days of reflection really do aid and abet their recovery. There’s nothing esoteric, fancy or otherworldly about this but God’s grace certainly abounds when we’e together. For me it’s as simple as being present: listening and holding their stories non-judgmentally, encouraging them and reminding them just how much they are loved by God whose desire for them is to know God’s mercy, compassion and healing.

I also volunteer for Mercy Care at two shelters downtown: City of Refuge (women) and Gateway Center (men), spending a couple of hours at each location one day a month as a “volunteer chaplain.” Again, a simple ministry of presence: I visit with clients who are in the clinic waiting room or in recuperative care making conversation, asking them about their lives, praying with them if they want, laughing and joking. Mercy Care is another amazing nonprofit which provides excellent comprehensive medical care to their clients: 86% of which are uninsured and 81% of which live at or below the poverty line. The clinicians, doctors, nurses, social workers do amazing heroic work each day providing for the underserved and those on the margins.

And speaking of the margins, these places have offered me profound moments of grace. Although difficult to fully describe, there is something so very important about being with men and women who have weathered so many storms. It helps me to experience a bit of Jesus’ compassion and why he was drawn to the anawim, the poor ones, and how he draws us to be with them. To see Jesus in their eyes and I hope reflect God‘s love back to them. It’s simple: they teach me how to hope and have resilience. The stories of what they have faced and overcome highlight my privilege: I sleep in a bed each night with a loving spouse, in a home that has heat, light, running water. I get to drink coffee in safety each morning and drive downtown in a car that belongs to me. My grumbling isn’t about survival, it’s about comfort. So I tell Sr. Kathy we will be traveling this summer to see family and parts of the country we have never been but I’ll be back in August. And I can’t wait.

For Reflection

  • What fears or biases might prevent me from going to the margins?
  • How have I been impacted or changed by being with the poor/homeless?

Scripture

  • “Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.” – James 1:27 (The Message)
  • Matthew 25:35 // For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.. stranger and you invited me in
  • Luke 4:18 // “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed.” Luke 4:18

Go Deeper?

  • Watch this beautiful 2 minute video on the Ignatian Spirituality Project, spiritual retreats to end homelessness. Donate to the Ignatian Spirituality Project here.
  • Read more about the work of Mercy Care here. For ways to support Mercy Care, click here.
  • Recommended Books: Christ in the Margins by Edwina Gately & Robert Lentz, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, Stories of Hope by Ignatian Spirituality Project, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • More about people for others: Watch this video from Loyola Press explaining more about this Ignatian principle and Pedro Arrupe, SJ, who coined the term.
  • Be a part of the Women and Men for Others series. Share with us about a person who is an example to you of what being a person for others means via this simple Google form. Watch for us to share submissions on social media!

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