We were making pancakes on a camp stove among a grove of cedar and eucalyptus trees in Golden Gate Park the other day, sharing them with anyone who came out of the trees and bushes where they’d slept the night before. Drifters many, living the gypsy life from coast to coast, travelling by train, by thumb, on foot. Others came to the famed Haight-Ashbury and stayed in order to “find themselves.” Most have lost more than they’ve found. Some collect recyclables, and on a good day (like after a holiday or concert in the park) they make as much as $50. Most deal weed for their living expenses, others peddle harder drugs like crack, meth, or heroin. The weed sellers ply their trade out in the open (the penalty benign) and my conversations with them are often interrupted by potential buyers of all shapes, sizes, and social extremes. Some customers are shoeless, showerless, shaveless, and sporting long, painstakingly grown dreadlocks. Other clients approach donning garments of the Armani brand.
Sometimes I just stand there while the sale is negotiated and completed – waiting patiently to continue our conversation, albeit a bit nervously. Other times, wanting to give them space, besides not being really excited about standing in the middle of a drug deal, especially if an authority were to appear out of nowhere (the stealthy park police ride dirt bikes or horses), I’ll stroll a few yards away until the transaction is completed.
Anyway, Branch, a seasoned dread-locked hippie traveller and I were talking about spiritual stuff. He’d arrived in the City most recently by train-hopping along with his dog (Parka) and his girlfriend, Sam from Ashland. With their worn backpacks and soiled sleeping bags on the ground next to them they slaked butter and syrup on their pancakes; I asked him some questions about his idea of Jesus. Like most people, he takes the “montage approach” to his spirituality, where pretty much any and everything spiritual is equally valid. After saying that in his estimation that Jesus was a really great guy, he volleyed a question back to me, not particularly common, so I was on alert. He inquired, “Do you believe that Jesus was the Son of God?”
Anticipating a return with some Sadducee-like spin on the ball, I think it was the Holy Spirit who alerted me to what was in Branch’s mind at that moment, “You bet,” I replied. And before he returned the ball to my side of the net, I offered a sort of preemptive volley, “We’re not the same – Jesus and me. I was adopted. That’s how much God loved me, he brought me into his family. He’s the Son and I’m a son by adoption.”
At which his brow furrowed, he paused, and managed a pensive “Hmmm.” Sometimes your best bet is to keep you spiel simple – the more terse the more memorable. I nearly felt a hand on my mouth, preventing me from saying more. If actual words had come to mind they’d have been something like, “You’ve said enough, Barney. Now let him think about it. Don’t interrupt.” The pause, while I was trying to pry the Spirit’s fingers one-by-one off my jaw, necessary because, rather than to say too little, my habit is to say way too much! Is anyone who knows me surprised? But I can see now that my reluctant restraint gave my few words greater weight than if they’d come in a larger crowd!
I realized, after the fact (which is when I usually identify these things as supernatural interventions), that what I’d just said was a “word of wisdom.” Albeit a simple one, this was a small Spirit-generated piece of divine wisdom. Had I been given permission, I would’ve said something along the lines of: “God saw me alone and scared, loved me the way I was, took me home with him, cleaned me, and included me in his family…” – you know how it goes. But I sensed that the liberty wasn’t granted, and, for me, a greater miracle is usually required to convince me to say less than to spew more. Maybe that’s why the Bible, instead of “words of wisdom,” calls it “the word of wisdom” (1 Corinthians 12).
Branch and Sam finished their pancakes and, along with Parka, gathered their gear, expressed their thanks and left. I hope they muse about, and eventually receive God’s adopting love and consent to go home as son and daughter.