Wisdom and Humility
One-woman show demonstrates Zen-Christian doctrine as lived by religious homeless activists.
Thursday, February 17, 2005
Like the moon emerging from a cloud,
the Fool sees there is no separation
between one sentient being and another.
—Excerpt from The Witness
Parker Palmer, an American theologian, once wrote, “Neither truth nor love tends to flow freely when we are comfortably in the middle of society, successful in society’s terms, profiting from the way things are arranged. Certain crucial truths about our lives are more easily seen when we are on the edge, at the margin, when we are poor or sick or hungry or in prison—and these truths can break the heart open to compassion.”
It’s an idea that The Faithful Fools, a street ministry dedicated to aiding the homeless, have been taking to the streets of San Francisco. The founders and directors of the Faithful Fools are Sister Carmen Barsody and the Reverend Kay Jorgensen. By embarking on “Street Retreats,” extended periods spent living on the streets alongside homeless people, The Faithful Fools effectively break down the social barriers that separate us from the homeless, shatter myths about those living in poverty and discover their common humanity.
“What’s it like to be homeless—to deal with living on the streets on a day-to-day basis?” asks Martha Boesing, author of The Witness, a one-woman play based on the experiences and testimonials of people who have participated in Street Retreats. “Once you have an understanding of what these people are experiencing then you can begin to be with them; then you can really begin to offer help with their suffering in some way.”
The Witness, which will be performed this Saturday at the Unitarian Universalist Church, tells the story of Tracey, a young woman living in the upscale SF neighborhood of Noe Valley. When a homeless woman intrudes into the young woman’s life it sets off a transformative journey that leads her downtown, where she meets the Faithful Fools, goes on a Street Retreat, and bears witness to the poverty, deprivation, and humanity that exist there.
Performed by actress Rebecca Noon, this one-woman play deftly weaves Tracey’s story with themes from the ten ox-herding pictures of the ancient Zen Buddhist teachings. In these paintings, the bull symbolizes the principles of life, truth, and enlightenment, and each picture depicts a step in a person’s awakening to one’s true nature.
On her journey, Tracey discovers that she must confront her own assumptions before she can enter wholeheartedly into the community of all living beings. Her journey provides the audience with a rare opportunity for profound understanding and personal transformation.
“Tracey sees that she’s not so different,” says Boesing. “She realizes that as long as this separation exists, there’s no way she can bridge that gap and do something about the situation.”
The Faithful Fools philosophy is based on the belief that to help anyone who is suffering you must nurture a relationship with them. Bernie Glassman, a Zen Buddhist monk writes, “Peacemaking is the functioning of bearing witness. Once we listen with our entire body and mind, loving action arises.”
Thus, to understand, we must first bear witness.
The Witness is performed on Saturday, Feb. 19, night at 7:30pm at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 490 Aguajito Rd., Carmel. 624-7491. $10 suggested donation.