The Green Man of Portland

So I’m out with some of my churchmates last week with fresh-baked ham, corn and potatoes to help feed the homeless.

Except we don’t call them “the homeless,” we call them “our friends without houses” or “our friends who live outside.” It’s more humanizing and personal, as opposed to “othering” these real human beings with a handy sociological label. But anyway:

So I’m helping share food with my friends who live outside, and as always I’m enjoying being there face to face, looking people in the eye and handing them something they need and can enjoy, fresh cooked from my oven, making human connections. And I’m thinking about the sign I received a month ago, the three-fold omen whose significance I’m still pondering.

I wore a mask of the Green Man of medieval myth for Halloween. Then I found a beautiful leaf on the street downtown, sporting beautiful colors and seeming to leap into my path. Then I passed a sidewalk art fixture that spoke of the “Green Man of Portland.”

Turns out the fixture was created by comics artist Daniel Duford as part of a series about the Green Man and his mystical, perception-alteringĀ  influence over the city’s inhabitants. What stood out for me at the time was the artwork’s closing line of poetry: “Even the shunned are held in the arms of the Green Man of Portland.”

While I’m hardly a seasoned veteran at interpreting signs and portents, I’ve generally found them to occur at pivotal times, when I’m feeling blocked about a particular problem or when I’m entering a new season of my life.

So I took it in and mulled it over. “Even the shunned are held in the arms of the Green Man of Portland.” For a long time I’ve been drawn to the “shunned” in all aspects of life, from the invisibles of the street to the passionate, the dissident, the radical. These are in so many ways “my people,” so it was no surprise to read those words. But what to do with them?

“Even the shunned are held in the arms of the Green Man of Portland.” I do long to reach out to people. To hold them in my arms, to awaken them to a way of life–of health, of freedom, of joy–that even I only dimly grasp. But do I have the right to push my way of thinking onto others? And even if I do “have” that “right”, do I really want to exercise it?

“Even the shunned are held in the arms of the Green Man of Portland.” Maybe I can find a way to hold people in my arms without smothering them, without trying to “fix” them, without “knowing what’s best” for them,” loving without any strings attached?

So I’m helping share food with my friends who live outside, and I believe that I can.

There are still a lot of unknowns. What about my life will change as I assimilate this new focus? Will I adopt some kind of persona and mission, or just keep doing stuff informally, as plain ol’ me? Will I continue to reach out piecemeal, doing little things here and there, or will I take up a dedicated mission and cause? I don’t know. I just know that I have a renewed focus to love people, and if there’s any kind of valuable lifestyle I can impart to help them, it will be by doing, by living in such a way that it invites them to do the same.

This isn’t a scientific process. Nor is it some esoteric mysticism requiring saint-like patience, fanatical devotion, or elite, hidden knowledge. it’s just a matter of looking and listening. Consider everything potentially significant. Be alert for connections in all things, even, ESPECIALLY, the unconscious. When you look and listen, story finds you.

Peace,

-Joel