A REFLECTION ON NEED
Margie Will, osf
HAVE THE “NEEDY” CHANGED?
In the United States, when we consider those who are in need as the materially poor, the marginalized, those who live in substandard shelter or have no shelter at all, people lacking adequate food, water, medicine, and medical care, the stranger, the imprisoned, the forgotten. Certainly, those in such circumstances are in great need. But what about the rest of us, those who have had their lives turned upside down by the lingering effects of the pandemic—unemployment, crippling debt, loss of homes, mental issues, or those who have enough or more than enough material resources for a comfortable, safe, and meaningful life? Are we, ourselves, needy?
[ Jesus said] “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
WHO ARE THE NEEDY IN 2023?
No matter our age, education, profession, social status, sexual orientation, ethnicity, country of origin, religious beliefs, or access to material goods, we share a common humanity– a hungering soul, a longing spirit, a search for meaning, that finds little nourishment in the unfolding of our current age. For some time now, these needs have emerged from a growing lack of confidence in those traditional institutions that, until recently, have served as trusted foundations of society—church, government, schools, the workplace. All of these have lost credibility through scandals, lies, coverups, manipulation, and the spirit of incivility that has fractured the exchange of honest and respectful dialogue about our different perspectives, beliefs, and realities.
Certainly, there is a difference between the urgent kind of need of the materially poor and those who have material resources. At the same time, in my 22 years as a spiritual director, companioning those who come from many cultures, religious beliefs, the mainstream of society and its margins, I notice that there are increasingly deep spiritual and emotional needs in both groups. These needs are shared; in so many ways we are all needy.
“When we provide the needy with their basic needs,
we are giving them what belongs to them, not to us.”
-Gregory the Great -6th Century
HAVE THEIR NEEDS CHANGED?
From this perspective I suggest that those in need have not changed; however, their needs have multiplied exponentially. In addition to the physical needs mentioned above, there is a growing need for soul sustenance—a need for recognition, a need for relationship, a need for dignity, a need for understanding, a need for forgiveness, a need for hope, and a need for a safe, neutral gathering space that welcomes people to come as they are with their joys, fears, challenges, and triumphs; a place to nurture community where each may tell their story with the assurance of respect, curiosity, and compassion.
Stories have been and continue to be the primary ways in which people come together and begin to understand the world, others, and themselves. I would like to briefly share some stories of those who find their needs honored at our Franciscan Living Center for Urban Spirituality in Sacramento, California. Names have been changed and descriptions are brief in order to safeguard the anonymity of each person.
“Food for the body is not enough.
There must be food for the soul.”
A Need for Recognition and Understanding
Sadie, a bright woman in her mid-thirties, came to the Center while she was unhoused. She had grown up in a family of addicts. In her early teens, she became addicted to drugs and alcohol and found herself in and out of mental hospitals, and jail. She had worked the streets before she found her sobriety through meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous but had continued to return to her addictive patterns.
She participated in several of the sacred conversation groups offered at the Center and found herself making friends with professional women who reflected back to her the beauty of her original poetry, her grace-filled concern for others, her intelligence, her gift of wicked humor, and the appreciation of her presence with them. Sadie still struggles, but she is no longer alone because she is part of a caring community.
[Jesus said] “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39
A Need for Relationship
Nina, a retired long haul truck driver, came to the Center as part of her goal to recover from the deep depression she had developed after being disabled by a work-related accident. A lover of nature and small, furry animals, she reminded me of a squirrel, as she shyly participated in a weekly gathering focused on art as meditation.
Before long, Nina was joining in the friendly banter among the other participants as they gathered. She arrived early to help set up for the gathering and offered to drive one of the frail participants home afterward. She learned to receive as well as give in a community of supportive equals.
A Need for Dignity and Hope
Willie had been homeless for years. He arrived at the Center looking to earn a few dollars so he could buy some dinner.
As he helped with pruning the roses in the front courtyard of the Center, he began to share his story. He spoke about where he slept behind the public library, his morning routine when he used the library restroom to wash, shave, and then read the daily news. He shared about the odd jobs he found and the generosity of some of those who hired him.
Willie started timing his visits to the Center to coincide with the end of one of the group meetings. As people left the gathering, they began to greet him, and ask him about his life. Some began to stay for another half hour after the meeting ended so that they had time for some serious conversations about God, the economy, and the frantic pace of life. These conversations offered all participants the grace of widely divergent perspectives. Willie was treated with respect and courtesy in a community that honored one another’s inherent dignity.
A Need for Forgiveness
Teresa is a well-educated, affluent, retired professional. She found her way to the Center via a referral for spiritual direction. Teresa brought with her a rigid perfection that did not allow for mistakes. It soon became apparent in her direction sessions that, although she’d been reared in a wealthy family, she had experienced childhood abuse that left her with deep and aching trauma. As a result of these experiences, she began to see a therapist in tandem with direction and joined a women’s wisdom circle at the Center.
As she explored her early trauma, she realized that it had influenced all her life choices and failed relationships. She found herself furious with her aged mother, who was in poor health. They had been estranged for years and Teresa had told herself that she would never forgive the ways in which her mother failed her. As time went on and Teresa faced her own failings as a mother, she felt the need to attempt reconciliation with her own mother. She brought this realization to the wisdom circle where the other women began to share their own experiences with injury, healing, forgiveness, and self-forgiveness. Over the next few years, Teresa, with the help of her therapist, began the slow, painful process of forgiving herself until she was ready to forgive her mother. She was able to do this largely because she belonged to a vulnerable community, women who shared their own stories of the struggle to forgive and the healing power that comes from forgiveness.
WHAT IS OURS TO DO?
Realizing that we are all in need, may we humbly recognize our own vulnerability, and learn to welcome the rough edges and fractured places that exist in each of us, realizing that our frailties are a connection we share with all of humanity.
This essential awareness can empower us, through the gift of grace, to sincerely meet and welcome all others, regardless of social status, financial position, ideology or religion, with deep compassion, generous mercy, insistent advocacy, sincere welcome, bountiful generosity, transforming justice, and contagious hope into life-giving community. You can learn more about the Franciscan Living Center for Urban Spirituality by visiting