I’ve been thinking more about the homeless woman I was chatting with yesterday. How I wish I knew her name. How honoured I’ll be if she ever decides to trust me with it. How thin and fragile and terrifyingly vulnerable she is, how one day she will simply cease to turn up at the Cathedral. Now probably no one will wonder where she’s gone when it finally happens. How as a privilleged, educated woman with a flat of my own and almost no chance of becoming destitue, I am worlds away from her and from her experience – and yet I’m not. Beneath the filth, the wandering madness, the confusion of drug addiction or mental illness or neurological damage, beneath the stench of unwashed flesh and months, perhaps years of grime on clothes and skin – there lurks a human soul. Damaged and scarred, almost certainly. Perhaps almost unrecognisable compared to what she once was – a child, a teenager, a young woman with the world in front of her, until something, somewhere, went badly wrong. But if you could quantify souls, photograph them, measure them – I suspect that hers would look identical to mine. I suspect that if you could empiracally measure their value, hers would be worth exactly as much as mine. Exactly as much as the soul of the Archbishop of Cantebury, of the Prime Minister, of the CEOs of any of the Fortune 500 companies – exactly as much as the soul of the pillar of the Cathedral community who gave me a bollocking yesterday.
And I can’t help thinking, that if it came to a comparison between this homeless lady (I wish I knew her name) and Mr Pillar of the Cathedral, I suspect I know who Jesus would most resemble. An itinerant preacher, wandering dirty dusty roads in the heat of summer without the benefits of deodorant or haircuts or even regular bathing – “scratching his lice and talking about the Kingdom of God” (to quote the amazing Laurie King), a figure barely worth noticing in comparison to the well-groomed bigwigs of his time – but for the Sacred that shone out of him. And I can’t help seeing the Sacred shining out of this homeless woman. Perhaps even more so than Mr Pillar, because she doesn’t have the trappings of wealth and importance and status behind which she can hide. Like Jesus, she’s inconvenient. Like Jesus (although presumably for different reasons) she doesn’t have the external trappings to disguise herself with. But unlike Jesus, she’s overlooked and unnoticed.
And the Sacred is shining out of her.