Poverty Perspective

Coming up against the culture isn’t always easy. Some people liken it to swimming upstream or going against the tide. Most often, once in the water, it’s just easier to go with the flow so-to-speak. That is, unless the flow takes us too far out and we don’t even realize the danger we’re in. When the undertow comes and the waves are high, we find our feet are no longer on solid ground.

Heads up is about all we can manage and some days, if we are honest, all we can do is tread water.

When we do head on into the deep, it does not mean following any crowd just because they happen to be going in that direction. Going deep has a ring of intentionality and purpose to it.

Recently, I read about a saint who has gone before us. I like reading about our brothers and sisters in Christ who have fought the good fight and lived their lives authentically in Christ. No platform did they stand on, no audience did they sell their books to, no latest Bible study did they write, no video series did they create and no column did they write. Not that those are bad things, they just didn’t do that. They did not merely give voice to their faith walk…they spent their lives living it.

This particular saint I read about was Elizabeth Prout. She lived in England in the 1800’s during the Industrial Revolution. Her faith walk was deep and encompassed every inch of her five foot tall frame.

She did something about making the world in which she lived, better. What did she do about the poverty she encountered in the slums? She didn’t lead a march nor did she write the government to point out the problems. She did not run for office in order to change laws. She did something about it by moving in and living as one with the poor. She got others to do likewise and started a community that kept themselves alive through prayer, teaching and working beside those who worked in mills. The conditions in which they lived were so terrible that other believers surrounding them were not only suspicious of them, but opposed to them.

What did she have to say about it? “Lord, no matter how hard my life is, I am happy because I know You love me. I want to share that happiness with my brothers and sisters. And to reach them I must share their lives, work with them and teach them” (Elizabeth Prout).

Leviticus 25:35–36 says how we are to live: “Help the poor among you.”

The closest like-minded saint to Elizabeth Prout that I ever met was a little lady named Marina. She lived the command to love your neighbor as yourself well as she lived in a house that was owned by another who simply allowed her and her family to live there. She swept the dirt on her patio made of dirt. She used a broom made from tree branches nearby. Marina cooked upon the ground mixing food within a large metal tub which also served as the family bath. She often gave up her portion of a meal for another. Sleep she did upon a pile of clothing on a cot within the kitchen because she gave up her bed so that someone else may have a bed. It wasn’t until later that I realized for whom she gave it up. She gave it up for me.

When a neighbor woman in need stopped in, Marina gave her something to drink. When the man up the road who lived in a tin lean-to had no food, Marina gave him hers.

What did she have to say about poverty?

“Much will be expected to whom much is given (Luke 12:48). I’ve been given much.”


Kathleen Kjolhaug, OblSB

This article was first published in Theology in the Trenches, a column written by Oblate Kathleen Kjolhaug. Posted with permission. Read more articles on her blog, Theology in the Trenches.

Photo: The beginning of the Mississippi River in Itasca State Park, taken by Sister Laura Suhr