by the Rev. Shirley Bowen, Executive Director and Chaplain
Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center, Biddeford
an update from Maine’s Mission Enterprise Zone
Bishop Stephen Lane and Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant with the sculpture
Thanks to the generosity of a colleague from Christ Episcopal Church in East Norwalk, CT, a very special visitor came to Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center this summer. The sculpture “Whatsoever you do…”made an appearance, along with Bishop Stephen T. Lane and Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant, on Wednesday, July 30, with a very realistic presence. The sculpture was created by Timothy Schmalz, the sculptor who also made the famous “Homeless Jesus” bench.
“He looks so real,” was one response; “Oh my, it’s SO powerful,” was another.
“It really makes me stop and think about the places where people are on the street looking for help,” summed up the goal of bringing the sculpture to Seeds of Hope.
Looking very life-like in his shrouded form with his nail-scarred hand stretched out seeking help, it becomes clear to those who are Christian that this represents Jesus being in solidarity with the poor. Based on the Matthew passage, 25:40, “Whatsoever you do…” reminds us all that in the eyes of God, all children rich and poor, and especially the poor and suffering, are precious and are to be cared for with compassion and love.
The sculpture speaks to non-Christians as well. The universality of suffering and the desire to recognize the humanity and dignity of all persons resonates at our deepest soul level. Whether one is a disciple of Jesus or the prophets, or follows the tenants of humanism or the sacredness of nature, the message buries itself in our very being.
With the many debates in the political arena about ways in which to address poverty, there is one thing we all agree upon. In a world where there is so much wealth and plenty, there is no reason for starvation. In Maine, one in every 8 people live below the poverty line and don’t always have enough food to meet their family’s basic needs. Food insecurity is 43% higher than the average of other New England states and ranks 11th highest in the nation. (Source: Maine Community Action website)
Forty-seven of the 151 homeless identified in York County through the Point in Time Survey conducted by York County Maine Military Community Network in partnership with Biddeford’s HUD office and in cooperation with Seeds of Hope, were found in Biddeford. Fourteen are completely unsheltered and the remaining couch surf and move from place to place. Forty percent of the remaining 33 are 17 to 29 years old. (Source: Biddeford Courier, March 6, 2014.) Additionally, more than 50% of the children in the Biddeford School System participate in the reduced or free lunch program.
Spending nearly two weeks with the sculpture of a poor, begging Jesus helps revitalize the passion that Seeds of Hope’s staff and volunteers feel for their work. Walking into the room and seeing the vulnerable; standing nearby and recognizing how easily one might overlook a small figure wrapped within him/herself, softens one’s slightly rough edges from the bombardment of the uncivil world.
Hearing the appreciation of our neighbors for bringing another form of voice to their circumstances, reminds us that while it often feels like we can never do enough, for now, it is enough.