The Return of the Night Visitor

He slinks down Pennsylvania Avenue, head down in a hoodie at 3:00 A.M., disguised as a homeless man, escaping the watchful eye of the Secret Service and the television cameras, returning to the dilapidated tenement in the poorest part of the city.

FBI Unabomber sketch

The tenement dweller who owns nothing has been waiting for him since their last visit. The apartment door is ajar, as it always is, in anticipatory welcome of all the homeless.

“Welcome, Donald. I wondered when we’d have another visit.” As he had during the first visit, he lifts the heavy coat from the visitor’s slumping shoulders, and points to the furniture he’d rescued from a dumpster — an old folding chair missing a slat, and the torn red-leather wingback, facing each other each as they had before. The night visitor pauses and chooses the high wingback.

The scene is the same as previously. The room is dimly lit by a small table lamp, the kind of late night or early morning light that creates an ambiance of calm and invites intimate conversation. The tenement dweller takes his seat in the folding chair. The visitor sits in silence, his hoodie still covering his head, not wanting to be seen, but wanting to be seen. The room is silent.

“I’ve been very concerned, friend. I see you’ve been tweeting a lot again. It must be lonely inside the wall. But it doesn’t show outside your wall. Others can’t see it. The you who’s visible to those outside the wall is cruel, vengeful, because in the world outside your wall And you’ve shut down the government over the wall. What’s that about? Tell me about that.”

“I can’t sleep. The family’s gone to Florida. I’m alone here with no one but the maids, the cooks and the butlers. My mind won’t stop. I watch television to settle down but now it only makes things worse. Even my favorite network may be turning on me.”

“What brings you here? It’s 3:30 A.M.

“I don’t know.” The table lamp flickers.

“Feels pretty dark, doesn’t it?”

“Very dark. Very dark! The darkest ever!”

“Why is that?”

The visitor lowers his head, like a child confessing to his parents. “I have all the power in the world but I’m helpless to help myself. I can’t stop tweeting. It’s like it’s not real. I could destroy the world with the push of a button. I’ve shut down the government. The power scares me. And there are all these investigations. My mind never stops. I can’t sleep.”

The tenement dweller in the small folding wood chair sits quietly in the hush that comes when truth has been spoken. His eyes are full of compassion for the homeless man who had opted for the big red leather wingback. The visitor has regressed since their last conversation. His need for self-assurance has grown worse. The walls have gone up.

“Remember our last visit, Donald? Your disguise is not a disguise. You’re hiding something. Do you ever watch ‘Ray Donovan‘?

Ray Donovan

“No. Why? Who’s Ray Donovan?”

“Ray’s’a fixer’, like Michael, but that’s not why I asked. Ray’s a lot like you, Donald. Ray’s running from what was done to him in childhood. He was molested by the man he trusted. His parish priest. He’s not been the same since. Ray built a wall around his heart. He’s cruel. He’s heartless. But inside the wall? He’s very tender, Donald. He’s homeless within his own wall. You can’t live inside the wall.”

From his small, wood chair, the tenement dweller reaches out his hand. They share a long silence before the host put Donald’s heavy coat back on his shoulders. In the pre-dawn darkness, the disguised night visitor returns to his homeless place on Pennsylvania Avenue. He hears singing from the street below.

“Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling—
  Calling for you and for me;
Patiently Jesus is waiting and watching—
  Watching for you and for me!
“Come home! come home!
  Ye who are weary, come home!
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
    Calling, O sinner, come home!”
Will Lamartine Thompson (1847-1909)

The tenement dweller smiles at the sound, but h knows it won’t be long before he comes back.

Nicodemus and Jesus on a rooftop, Tanner, Henry Ossawa, 1859-1937
Nicodemus and Jesus on a rooftop, Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937)

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 12, 2017.

The night visitor

He slinks down Pennsylvania Avenue, head down in a knit cap, at 3:00 A.M. disguised as a homeless man escaping the watchful eye of the Secret Service, his administration, and the cameras, on his way to a dilapidated tenament in the poorest part of the city.

The tenement dweller who owns nothing has been waiting for him. For a long time. The door is ajar, as it always is, in anticipatory welcome of his and others’ coming.

“Welcome, Donald,” he says. “It’s been years. I wondered whether we’d ever have a visit.” He lifts the visitor’s heavy coat from his burdened shoulders. The tenement dweller points to two chairs he’s rescued from a dumpster in the wealthier part of the city, and, without words, invites his guest to choose between the small wood folding chair and the high red-leather wingback that face each other in the small room. The guest pauses …and then, reluctantly, chooses the small folding chair.

The room is dimly lit by a small table lamp, the kind of late-night or early morning ambiance that engenders a kind of intimate calm. They sit in silence.

“I’ve been concerned, Donald. I see you’ve been tweeting a lot – more than normal. What’s that about?”

“It’s all I have. My mind won’t stop. I don’t sleep. I don’t rest. I watch television to distract me but it’s only making things worse. I’m a mess. I feel very alone.”

But you’re not. You’re surrounded by people in the White House. Why did you come here?”

“I remembered you from childhood. My mother taught me the song I used to sing about you. I used to end my bedtime prayers on my knees in your name.

Jesus is silent.

“And now? What brings you here at this hour of the morning?

“I don’t know.”

The table lamp next to the chairs flickers.

“It feels pretty dark, doesn’t it?”

“Very dark. Very dark!”

“Why is that?”

“I have all the power in the world but I’m helpless to help myself. I can’t stop tweeting. It’s like it’s not real. I could destroy the world with the push of a button. The power scares me. So do my advisors. My mind never stops.”

Silence. The silence of truth.

The tenement dweller’s eyes  look through him, but are soft and compassionate, as well as penetrating. His posture is relaxed but completely attentive to the man-child in the smaller, folding chair. Finally he speaks quietly.

“Maybe it’s time to get down on your knees again? Time to recognize that your homeless disguise is not just a disguise? You’ve been homeless in that gilded tomb of a tower. Time to sing the song you loved to sing in Sunday School, submit yourself to a power greater than your self, and get a good breakfast in the morning instead of tweeting. And, do something about Steve Bannon. He got it all wrong. He’s thrives on anxiety. I’ve been waiting for him, too.”

They sit together in silence. The tenement dweller reaches out his hands; the president extends his hands in response. They sit in silence – a wordless kind of prayer of the Deeper Silence – by the flickering light until they rise from their respective chairs. The host lifts Donald’s heavy coat up to his lightened shoulders and watches the homeless president leave for another day on Pennsylvania Avenue, humming in the silence, “Jesus loves me, this I know… Little ones to him belong. He is great but I am small” in anticipation of a return visit, and a word at the White House with his lesser advisors.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 12, 2017.









NOTE: This e-mail was shared among friends from my wife Kay’s high school days. When asked how best to introduce her, Kathy replied, “just another person seeking to understand how to respond.”

“It’s so hard to make sense sometimes of all the voices, the messages, that break into a usual day.

“Downtown, I heard the sound of a ragtag bunch of demonstrators on the next block, chanting in one voice, ‘Hands up, don’t shoot’, in solidarity with protesters all around the country. I saw an armored police vehicle, moving quietly, on the next block, seemingly trying to get ahead of where the protesters would be coming next. There was no sound at all coming from the twelve or fifteen police who were mounted around the outside of the vehicle, like so many tin soldiers, with protective gear and plexiglas shields. If they were speaking, it wasn’t for us to hear. On the next block, at least two dozen police on bicycles were making their way up a crowded sidewalk; probably more in total than the group of protesters.

“Somewhat shaken, and wondering, as I often do, whether I belong out there with the marchers, and where is my place in the confusing discussion. What does my own voice need to say? I made my way back home. After all, there was no place to leave my car in our crowded downtown if I wanted to join the marchers. I was not “dressed” for a protest. I said to myself, “a walk in the park is what I need, even though it is getting dark. It’s not raining, and it’s mild and not windy”.

“As I walked up the slope around the corner from our house, I heard chanting again, this time happy voices. I couldn’t quite make out the words at first, but soon I realized it was three girls singing “Come on down to our holiday sale, our holiday sale, our holiday sale”. Of course, that group was much easier for me to join, and there were most certainly no police in sight. The girls had hot cocoa, gingerbread cookies, and origami birds for sale. Conversation was easy. One girl told me she was raising money for ‘cancer’, the next for the ‘pet shelter,’ and the last for ‘homeless’.

“I had to offer a prayer of gratitude for everyone who is working to make this longing world a more just and welcome place.”

Kathy Elliott
Portland, Oregon
December 7, 2014


they may not take you in
if you’re drunk again

even mom says get a rental
when you’re mental

dad thinks it’s funny
when you ask for money

The cleaners have a key to the lock
but you need to knock

your room has nice sheets
but you’re on the streets

You want to be cleaner
but have no shower

jobs ask for an address
but you’re homeless

– Verse by Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, Oct. 2, 2014

Editor’s Note: Steve was prolific early this morning. “Home” is one of FOUR composed on his iPhone in the wee hours of the morning. He appears to have been sleepless in Urbana, without a job – he’s retired – but not homeless, showered, lying awake with his back to Nadja on clean sheets at the address they joyfully share with those in need.

Church to become home for homeless families

Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska has decided to use its space as temporary overnight accommodation for homeless families. The press release and the Chaska Herald’s online story just made its way to

Click HERE for the story. The project is targeting to begin in February, 2013. To help with the project, leave a comment here.

Bishop in dreadlocks – Hallelujah!

Click Bishop in dreadlocks – Hallelujah!.

“In the Company of Hysterical Women”  sent this today – the appointment of a bishop with dreadlocks in New Zealand.  Read the story and watch the video interview with the pastor whose ministry has stood with the homeless and marginalized people.

Indeed. Hallelujah! It’s a good day.


Opening a Vein- a reflection on grief

Keep Me in the Light

Gordon C. Stewart  –  Tuesday, 15 March 2011 21:28
This piece grew out of the experience of grief – the loss of step-daughter Katherine following a four year courageous battle with cancer.   was down, way down. I had to preach the following Sunday. I had nothing to say…only a swamp of feelings. I had connected the grief over Katie’s death with the sense of homelessness I had walking the streets iof Minneapolis. I decided to sit down and write. 

What does a preacher or writer do when the well runs dry? For well over a month my well has been dry as a bone. I have nothing to say.

I watch the news. I listen. I am lonely and confused, like a street person hearing the garbled voices of the public address system blaring over the loudspeaker and the thunderous cheers and jeers from the sports stadium blocks away from where I live under the bridge.

When the well runs dry, you sit down at your typewriter “staring at a blank sheet of paper,” said journalist Gene Fowler, “until drops of blood form on your forehead.” Fowler, like famed sportswriter Red Smith, knew that “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

Opening a vein is hard when what’s in the vein is grief. It’s even harder when you’re alone and silent on the street, bombarded by all the noise from the stadium.
Only as I begin to write again do I realize the grief. I don’t recognize the world in which I live. I live under the bridge with a cheap bottle of wine. I hear the shouts from the stadium and recognize the passion in their voices, like fans from Green Bay and Minnesota rooting for the Packers and the Vikings: loud cheers and boos from the spectators, shouting the old platitudes, participating vicariously in what’s really happening between the two professional teams down on the playing field.
I don’t know this world. All the rules that favor the middle class and the poor are up for grabs. I’m not sure I want to learn this new game.

I am a man of faith informed by the Hebrew prophets, Jesus of Nazareth and the faith and labor movements of the 20th century that ended child labor; stopped employers from working their employees 12 hours a day, seven days a week; closed the sweat shops that were taking advantage of immigrants from Italy, Poland and Ireland; bridled the horses of runaway greed—the banks, the robber barons and corporations— that profiteered at public expense; won the right of collective bargaining; demanded basic financial security for retirees (Social Security); established a woman’s right to vote; enacted the Civil Rights Act; ended the war in Vietnam; and called for ecological sense, the protection of our natural habitat, the air and the water on which life on the planet depends. I grieve that Jesus’ and the prophets’ vision of turning the upside down world right-side up is gasping for air.

Like Gene Flower, the journalist who described writing with drops of blood forming on his forehead, I’m losing it the way he did when a stranger who claimed to be a healer suddenly appeared at the hospital room of his dear friend John Barrymore. “Just give me three minutes with Mr. Barrymore,” said the charlatan, and I will cure him!” Fowler grabbed him by the collar and threw him down the stairs, calling after him, “Physician, heal thyself!”

I want to throw the impostor healers who have suddenly appeared outside the national hospital room down the stairs, which is not a good thing for one who claims to follow Jesus and the prophets. I’m mildly comforted that Jesus lost it when he threw over the money-changing tables of the financial establishment of his time. But then, I’m not Jesus.

Opening a vein may not change the world. I’m still walking the street three blocks from the stadium. But as I think about where I come from and wipe the beads of blood that are forming on my forehead, a hymn that was ripped from the Presbyterian hymnal rises from deep wells of childhood memory:

God of the prophets, bless the prophets’ heirs; Elijah’s mantle o’er Elisha cast; Each age its solemn task may claim but once; Make each one nobler, stronger, than the last.
Anoint them prophets! Make their ears attent To Thy divinest speech; their hearts awake To human need; their lips make eloquent To gird the right and every evil break. I am strangely consoled.

The vision and the call are still alive and well in my soul. I pass the homeless shelter near the bridge and hear the faint sound of other street people singing another old familiar hymn.

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art – Thou my best thought, by day or by night, Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

I’m bleeding. But warm blood is a sign of life. Lord, keep me in the light.