An unexpected encounter
Feeling ambitious one summer, my high school friends and I decided to make sandwiches to feed homeless people in downtown Cleveland. Back then, a lot of the downtown homeless population bided their time at Public Square or were paid minimum wage for overseeing private parking lots during home Indians games.
Our first trip up was fairly uneventful – we quickly handed out our food and left – but it was enough to make us want to do it again. Soon, every Thursday, we were stuffing our backpacks with sandwiches and bottled water to give away.
After several weeks downtown, we started coming across a regular crowd. Over ham and cheese sandwiches we’d talk about life, Cleveland sports’ terrible luck and the weather. July’s intense sun warmed the concrete buildings and city streets, radiating a heat that often lingered past sunset. To keep cool, many found shade on building corners or in cardboard boxes.
One evening I found myself talking to Ray, one of our regular guests. As what often happened, faith came up during our conversation. At the moment, Ray felt like challenging me. Ray asked me if I knew Psalm 23.
“Sure,” I said.
“Well then recite it.”
In the King James Version I had memorized from Sunday school I said, “The Lord is my Shepard; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul…” I stopped. What came next? My mind had gone blank.
Ray sat there dumbfounded, looking at me. “Come on,” he said rolling his hands like waterwheels. “Come on!” Impatiently he picked up where I left off. “He leadeth me in paths of righteousness for his name sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death: I shall fear no evil, for thou art with me; thy rod and they staff they comfort me…”
Ray continued reciting the Psalm until the end, where he finished with a confident “and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever!” With that, the words of Scripture came alive! Ray’s internalized Psalm was more palpable, more trusting and more hopeful than what I had yet witnessed. And then I realized that angels had hosted me.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.