She Spoke Loud
By Rachel Guthall
I stood outside brick towers that could hardly pass for a house of worship in the eyes of many if it weren’t for the faded mural on the building’s cement facade. It shows Jesus in the typical Last Supper seating – albeit, this time surrounded at the table by people of all ages, genders, and races. There’s even a man in a wheelchair, and through the sun-washed paint, you can still see a smile behind his pale eyes. The company’s arms are all outstretched, palms open, anxiously awaiting for Jesus to pass the bread and all the blessings that come with it. The people don’t look that different from the ones who live here in Mt. Clare, Baltimore: diverse and hopeful, but certainly considered by the average passerby as a little bit rougher than most. The door at the base of the towers of Wilkens Avenue Mennonite Church – called simply, “the church down the street” – sees its heaviest traffic on Thursday nights for Narcotics Anonymous.
“People here are a lot more open about their brokenness,” I was told prior to my attendance. My cohorts and I are mostly from fairly comfortable financial situations. Most of us lived in the Baltimore area our whole lives and never dared consider that the same sin condition in the people of this city was also in us. The pre-meeting counsel continued: “Your neighborhoods could look really similar if people were honest about all the sin that they’re hiding.”
Once I heard the speakers at NA, the counsel made sense.
It was normally hard to hear people over the multiple fans running to keep the church basement cool, but the woman who spoke that night spoke loudly, a certain edge to her voice that somehow made you this unique type of intimidated where all you could do was laugh. The sides of her head were shaved, and even though she certainly looked intimidating, when she made her way to the front to speak, she was greeted with more than one hug from other members. She apologized in advance for her profanity, saying, “I just want to be real. Plus, we’re all f---ing grown, aren’t we?”
This woman spoke about how her dad had been a dealer, and always showered her with gifts when he was in town, but wouldn’t stick around long enough to do anything but spend money on her. She spent the rest of her life looking for attention like that – whether it meant helping them sell drugs or letting herself be used.
She talked about grace. She talked about her struggle to get clean. She talked about how all she wanted to do was get high, but she knew that she had to keep coming back. Switching between crude language and spiritual insights, it started to seem like the two were inseparable. I don’t know how I didn’t see it before, that no matter how rough it was, pretty or not, God was in every word this woman said. She talked about her God and how He saw her through everything – no matter how rebellious, or ungrateful, or helpless she could be.
I can’t say I haven’t felt that way. I can’t say I don’t go everywhere but to God for my own satisfaction. I can’t say I haven’t hurt people I love consistently for my own selfish good. The difference is, when you look at me, you don’t see that.
To me, there is no purer representation of the celebration in Heaven than the end of that NA meeting. They called out different achievements: one year, five years, ten years clean. Applause followed each. But when they called out “30 days or less clean,” the cheers chased the humid rag hanging over the room out into the night.
The drug dealers, the prostitutes, the homeless – all the different people I met meeting in Mt. Clare, in God’s eyes, they go first by the name of Son and Daughter. They are the Beloved of the King as much as anyone. They still fail. I still fail. But we are failing before a God who makes everything whole.
Rachel Guthall is a junior at McDaniel College where she majors in English and Communications. She has a growing heart for God's work in the city surrounding poverty, justice, and racial reconciliation.