The most painful part of holding a cardboard sign at the intersection is not the humiliating public declaration of helplessness, or having trash thrown at you, or hearing the windows roll up and watching the automatic doors lock down. By far, from what I’ve heard after a decade of listening, is the refusal of so many drivers, idling just feet away at the red light, to even make eye contact.
Noticing is already hard enough. But poverty, laced with our primal fears that we’re all one pay check, one disability, one tear in the social fabric away from the same position, convinces us not to look. While being at the bottom of the class hierarchy perpetuates shame, strips dignity and compromises worth, its most devastating effect is forcing anonymity.
The practice of blessing, however, is the simple but profound discipline of awakening the eyes of the soul to acknowledge the holy in someone different than you. Pausing with intention long enough to truly see the inherent divinity in another.
Convinced that what’s most sacred is often who’s most overlooked, Haywood St. has commissioned a portrayal of the Beatitudes scripture, the nine blessings offered to the least likely. In a litigious society where every wrong is a punishable offense, we hear instead, “blessed are the merciful…” In militarized culture where every gun is loaded, we’re reminded, “blessed are the peacemakers…” In a world where wealth is worshipped, we’re told, “blessed are the poor…”. Blessed are those among us who go perpetually unnoticed.
Spanning an entire sanctuary wall and using the ancient art form of fresco- a technique which applies colored pigment to wet plaster creating a durable canvas in perpetuity- homeless and formerly homeless congregants will participate as models. Each will be drawn in detail and painted with dignity, investing in the slow and deliberate process of rendering the sacred in each individual.
Our deepest hope for the Haywood St. fresco is to create a confrontational counter narrative to the poor getting poorer; to move our siblings on the street from waiting at the red light to standing front and center in a timeless piece of art; to focus fearlessly on poverty, staring long and hard with the belief that our corporate liberation is bound up in those we most avoid looking at.
In time, talent, and treasure, we invite your participation.