What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.


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Holy manna

When I was a small child, I sang at the mission in Chicago, though I don't remember what any of the songs were. I vaguely remember the time a fight broke out between two of the men, and I just went on singing. My parents told that story over and over again and thought me very brave, but it never occurred to me to stop. What did frighten me was the water fountain. Some trick of the light made the water look beer-colored from the stage, and to my overactive imagination it seemed that this was a sign that Something was Wrong whenever one of the men went back to get a drink.

Eventually my father and I stopped going to the mission, and what seemed like many years passed. Really, it was only a few. In my teens I began attending the church that also ran my high school, and the church sent a group once a month on a Monday (as I recall) to be in charge of the service at the mission.

Few women came with our group, and few women were needed. Our men--teens and adults--preached and led the singing, and at the end our men were the ones most needed to pray with those who came forward. There were few women in the audience.

I must have been about fourteen years old when it happened. The only other woman with our group, one of my school teachers, had already gone to pray with someone.

Then she came forward--I do not know her name--and it was my turn. I believe one of the boys had to signal me before I realized what I had to do. I went into a side room with her, we sat down on two metal chairs, and a gulf yawned between us.

No one had told me ahead of time what to do or say, though my head was full of Bible, theology, and theory. All the words went out of my head. I do not think I asked her name or told her mine. (At this time, I believed that I would be a missionary someday.)

Her hair, I remember, was red. She seemed to me very old, much, much older than I. Now I think she may have been as much as thirty. Her face had perhaps once been pretty but was ravaged by I knew not what griefs, and on her bare legs there were sores. Perhaps I exaggerated them. No doubt I stared. She tucked her legs under the metal chair as if to hide them.

I asked her why she had come. Choosing her words with care, looking at me sideways, she said that she had been bad, that she had done bad things, that she would try not to do the bad things but then would do them again. I do not remember what I said. It seems to me likely that I would have launched into a devastating treatise on "how you can know that you are going to heaven," and yet in my mind when I think of that night there is a great silence, and I think perhaps this once I did not say that. We prayed together. I do not know what we prayed.

And that is all. In this life, I will never see her again, nor she me, and I do not know if I did her good or harm or neither. But I have not forgotten her, and perhaps she has not forgotten me.

A few months ago when I spoke to my father he was pleased that, despite his poor health, he was able to go to the mission the previous Monday with the church group.

Brethren, we have met to worship and adore the Lord our God.
Will you pray with all your power while we try to preach the Word?
All is vain unless the Spirit of the Holy One comes down.
Brethren pray, and holy manna will be showered all around.

Sisters, will you join and help us? Moses’ sister aided him;
Will you help the trembling mourners who are struggling hard with sin?
Tell them all about the Savior, tell them that He will be found;
Sisters, pray, and holy manna will be showered all around.


Comments (6)


I just have to ask -- was it the Pacific Garden Mission:

http://www.pgm.org/ ?

I drive by their new facility all the time and I'm glad they kept their big "Jesus Saves" sign. That sign is iconic for most Chicagoans who are old enough to remember the mission when it was in the South Loop.

I _think_ it was, Jeff. The funny thing is, I have a feeling that there were two different missions we went to at different times, but I think the incidents in these stories all happened at PGM. This would have been the old facility.

Beautiful story, Lydia. Thanks for posting. I'm sure that by your prayers you have helped and not harmed this woman.

The situation is an almost perfect copy of a fiery Lenten mission in which many souls are so moved by the preaching to make haste for the confession line. It seems likely, the way you tell this story, that the woman who came to you wished she could have confessed her sins and unloaded everything. Our souls long for confession.

It seems likely, the way you tell this story, that the woman who came to you wished she could have confessed her sins and unloaded everything.

I agree. But not only was I not a priest; I was a child. She couldn't possibly tell me.

She couldn't possibly tell me.


Hey. I am happy I've found this page, I've been trying to remember the web address. Anyway I would just like to thank you for your time and the posting, I've enjoyed it. I have saved as a favorite it and also subscribed to the RSS feeds.

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