As I have mentioned before in previous posts, I often staff night shelters with Open Table Nashville, a homeless outreach and advocacy organization. This past winter, we had around 50 nights where we had to hold the emergency warming shelters when temperatures plummeted below 25 degrees. As an innkeeper of these shelters, my job is to be the go-to person throughout the night so our unhoused friends can have all their needs met.
Often when I am innkeeping, I like to stay up as late as I can—though it’s not required of me to necessarily pull an all-nighter. On one night last winter, I was up late writing papers at a shelter site downtown at Green Street Church of Christ. My eyes were burning with fatigue as the snow swirled outside the dilapidated church windows. I had situated myself in a small corner between several sleeping areas so as to keep watch. As I stared at the dim light of my computer screen, I could hear the wind and traffic roaring outside and the rattled breathing of broken bodies on the pews in the sanctuary and the fellowship hall. I battled sleep as I tried to keep watch. I turned over in my head the faces of people who might still be left outside to freeze.
I couldn’t help but remember the words of the homeless Jesus: “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me….could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial, the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak….Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See the hour is at hand, and the Human One is betrayed into the hands of sinners” (Matthew 26:36-46).
More often than not, Nashville has less shelter sites than you can count on two hands—even when it is below twenty-five degrees. The lives of our friends on the streets are at stake when the city is too focused on wealth, successful tourism, and being the “It City.” We must keep watch for the hours when our friends are betrayed to die in the elements, to the cops arresting them, and to negligent abuse. Daylight is coming soon; until then, we must keep watch.
Lost in the night, do the people yet languish?
Longing for morning the darkness to vanquish
Plaintively heaving a sigh full of anguish
Will not day come soon? Will not day come soon?
Must we be vainly awaiting the morrow?
Shall those who have light, no light let us borrow?
Giving no heed to our burden of sorrow,
Will you help us soon? Will you help us soon?
Sorrowing wanderers in darkness yet dwelling,
Dawned has the day of a radiance excelling!
Death’s dreaded darkness forever dispelling,
Christ is coming soon! Christ is coming soon!