Years ago, I was standing on a street corner just as the seasons were changing from autumn to winter. The sky was gray and it was freezing outside. There was a homeless man standing on the sidewalk in just a pair of blue jeans, gym shoes and a vest. No shirt. No socks. No jacket. Just jeans, shoes, a vest and his exposed skin.
As I waited for the crosswalk signal to change, a brand new car came to a screeching halt. Suddenly, its hazard flashers were on– this car was holding up traffic. A well-coiffed woman got out of the car, removed her coat, wrapped it around the man’s shoulders and walked away without an explanation.
The man muttered “Thank you,” but his thanks were lost to the whipping wind. The woman left too quickly to hear his expression of gratitude. She and her shiny car seemed to disappear into the bumper-to-bumper traffic. I stood there for a moment… stunned… and watched the man zip up the coat. The crosswalk changed, but I didn’t move. I lost sight of him, too, as he walked into the downtown bustle.
I remember believing that I had experienced God in that moment, and as you can clearly see, I never forgot it.
I believe limitless hatred already exists in this world. Humans have demonstrated the capacity to hate others without limit, even to the point of genocide. Frankly, I can no longer conceptualize a God who would perpetuate hatred and fear. If there’s a God, I don’t believe he/she/it is interested in feeding the cycle of division, selfishness and pain that has existed in the hearts of men since the beginning of human history.
Unlike limitless hatred, limitless love is rarely seen. I believe “God” is that which calls us to exhibit love when we believe no one’s looking. I think of God’s Spirit as the power that compels us to embrace the people we fear the most. I believe God is who raises up spiritual voices in every tradition to defend those for whom hatred has become oppressive.
When I think about God, I think about the man and woman I saw on the street corner that day. I think about how overwhelmed with compassion she must have felt before giving away her own coat. In that moment, she demonstrated a small taste of God’s limitless love. She was my Gospel and my proof that the Spirit of God still speaks to people. She reminded me that there really is love in this world, and that God represents a limitless version of that love. Some days, that’s the only good news I need.