by Lella Ivey
The time was Nativity Christmas feast, 1995, in a Russian Orthodox Christian community in Portland, Oregon.
Over the chapel, our community room was filled with 37 ravenous parishioners who had abstained from meat and dairy for five weeks. Five weeks, need I say more? It was a feeding frenzy. Having refilled platters and bowls for the second wave, my prime motive now became one of escaping the noise and bodies.
Slipping quietly outside, I made my way down the driveway for a cigarette and silence. Unexpectedly, I met a man at the dark sidewalk.
For some odd reason, my shields did not go up. He was sober, clean, saying simply, Im hungry. Do you have any food?
A jumble of thoughts occupied my mind in the silent moment that followed. I thought, Of course, enough food for half the entire neighborhood. My internal voice urged me to act: Introduce yourself; ask his name. Take his arm; say follow my lead. Guide him back upstairs. Write it as you go.
I said and did none of these things. Instead, I handed him two cigarettes and said, Please wait here, Ill be right back.
Back in the din of the community feast, I tugged on my priest cleric and said, Please come with me. He followed me outside. Thankfully, the man was still there at the sidewalk. Priest and man chatted briefly.
Father P. then turned to me, saying, Come Lella, well fix him a plate.
Back upstairs, we piled a plate full of food, then returned it to him and showed him where to sit.
Father P. then said Come my dear. Your guests are waiting.
Scurrying along behind Father P.s black clad figure, I struggled to quiet my internal voice which, by now, could be heard over departing 767s at PDX. I repeatedly reminded myself of Father P.s admonition, Submit. Be dutiful. I told myself This is not your call.
Standing inside again, surrounded by conversation, food and good cheer, I could no longer tolerate the thought of him alone out there in the dark and cold, beyond the walls of the warm church. With carafe of coffee and two cups in hand, I blew out of there, with Father P.s authoritative voice beating on my eardrums: Lella, sit down! I kept going.
The man was gone. In the matter of a few moments, he had disappeared without a trace. It was one of those times when God reveals to us the utter hypocrisy of our professed faith.
Every facet of that encounter had been my call. It was MY path that God had put that pilgrim on. Not the community feasting in the church. Not Father P. And my response had been to abdicate responsibility. I had given him food, but had not given of myself. It haunts me still these long years later.
I know who that man was. He was the Messiah.
It is the things we do not do for which we must answer to God. Perhaps, if I live long enough (I am 64 now), and am very careful, God will be merciful and forgive.
And perhaps, when I have learned the true meaning of the sin of omission, I will forgive myself.
Lella Ivey is working to create a curriculum for a course in Personal Fire Building, (i.e. What I do, I do for menot because it is good or right, but because it meets my own integrity). Lella surrounds herself with an entourage of young men so she wont get bored. She lives in Portland, Oregon.
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