This was first published in a David’s Place newsletter and in the December 2018 edition of ‘Via Vitae’, a newsletter for the oblates of The World Community for Christian Meditation (which can be viewed and downloaded here). The retreat was run in October 2018.
For the last seven years, members of Sydney’s David’s Place community have made their way to St. Benedict’s Monastery, near Arcadia (in Sydney’s north west), for their annual retreat. Oblates from The World Community for Christian Meditation have been invited, each year, to support them.
What is David’s Place?
David’s place is an inner-city space where Sydney’s homeless and marginalised can come to find friendship, peace, spiritual nourishment and connect with the wider community.
It was created to be a place where Jesus would have liked to hang out, where it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, or where life has led you.
David’s Place brings together both rich and poor, breaking down barriers in our city. Division in our communities is where many of our societal problems arise. To experience David’s Place for yourself is to know that such separation is avoidable. (from davidsplace.com.au)
Jesus was not about class. Jesus was about the Kingdom, or Kin-dom of God: places and ways of life that are about kindness, compassion, and just relations. Attempting Kin-dom living can be a challenging way to operate. It can involve being with people very different to ourselves. This can reveal to us our tendencies toward fear in the face of difference. Division can be a product of this fear.
It is familiarity that breaks down uncertainty and fear. Community is the place where the stranger becomes familiar, where the stranger can then become a friend. David’s Place is such a place.
But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. (2Cor 4:7)
The clay jar of St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is a great metaphor for the human condition. We are all jars of clay. In our psychology and physicality, we are the stuff of the earth. Some jars have been mostly looked after, cared for; others have been neglected. Some jars have been shaped with weaknesses, fault lines in the clay that are just there. Some jars are stronger in their shape and can bear a load that other jars cannot.
This year’s David’s Place retreat was a time for us, as clay jars, to come away and rest. For many, the load of living in the inner-city was set aside; fault lines were eased.
The wonderful thing about being jars of clay is that the ‘weaker’ ones can remind the ‘stronger’ ones what we all carry: the treasure that is Christ. This is what happened at this year’s retreat. Human acts of love and kindness revealed this treasure within: wheelchairs pushed through the mud and the rain; words of encouragement and love given amid challenging circumstance; concern voiced for those upset; inclusion valued above everything else; prayers of thanks and intercession offered; gratitude abounding; silence shared.
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. (2Cor 4:8-10)
Many at David’s Place live with fragile clay. It bends, it cracks, it can break. And so it can be with all of us. This year’s retreat showed that fragile acts of love are the strongest acts; in their vulnerability they reveal the invincibility of divine love in human experience. Love is an extraordinary power that lives in us, waiting to move and act as us. Fragile clay is love’s sacrament.
During the retreat our breaks and cracks were on display – we could not help it. And not being able to help it is the gift. In all this is a treasure shines through, transfiguring weakness into ways of love. This is what happens when fragile human beings dare to love each other. This is what happened at this year’s David’s Place Retreat.
For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2Cor 4:11-12)
What can happen for us who accept something of the clay that they are, the jar we have become, and still together attempt love? We experience that this Jesus, this treasure of Christ within us, is mysteriously one with who we most deeply are. The humanity of Jesus is his solidarity with us. Being human is enough – whatever jar we are.
Each year, at St. Benedict’s Monastery, the David’s Place Community are their own human face of divine love for each other. This is what all community can be, both for each other and for the world.