I apologize for missing my Thrifty Thursday post this past week.  I’ve had some mild wildness creep into my life, but it’s forced me to do a lot of things, and that’s been strangely good.

A little-known fact about me is that God and I have this understanding:  I pray honest prayers . . . the kind of prayers any Irish-by-blood and Protestant-by-raising will sometimes utter.  As a result, they come across as pretty inelegant, and even at times irreverent.  One of them recently has been this:

“God, make me do what I’m put here on this earth to do. Even if it means dragging me around like a bitchy cat on a leash.”

Wish I could find the original source for this. But, hey - let's credit the cat.

Wish I could find the original source for this honest portrayal of feline nature. But, hey – let’s credit the cat. He put up with a lot for this meme.

Folks, this kind of prayer is dangerous because God will take you up on your request before your soul has even finished taking its prerequisite courses to prepare for whatever that all is.

So, of course, after I sent off this soul-missive, the leash went on, metaphysically speaking, and I found myself dragged around on an improbable tour by some mystifying forces.

Destination 1:  Out of My Own Head

I’d thought that maybe my sense of purpose and direction for my lifetime on earth would be found by journaling my reflections or meditating in a park or reading something quietly soul-shaking.  Not so much.

Instead I found myself sitting in a packed Catholic church next to a Korean expatriate (herself a widow) while attending the heartbreaking funeral of a sixteen year-old South American boy who’d just killed himself: one of my “kids” I was connected to through various activities at my place of work — a beautiful man-child with a darkness under all that merriness, mischief and brightness.

Grief in these moments is compounded by old griefs brought up for air. The Korean widow and I wound up talking. I wound up holding this widow, who knew the boy through her daughter, and who’d had nobody beyond her daughter who was close to her when her husband had died last year.  It was a sobering thought that, here, in this pain, was the comfort she’d needed so long ago.

That same evening, I did the “dinner-fail”: I went for takeout Chinese from the cheap little restaurant on the way home. I was drained.

I flopped in a plastic chair next to a humming old fridge to wait while the stir fry whizzed around somewhere in the tiny back kitchen.  In lumbered another tired woman–in her sixties, black, a nurse, presumable by her uniform and the proximity of the hospital–who ordered succinctly and sat down like the weight of the world was on her shoulders. She noticed me in my dark clothes, and I greeted her.  We chatted about the sudden rainfall, but after we’d each warmed up to the kindness of the other, we wound up coming around to tragedy.

“My son was killed in the street ten months ago.  Mixed up with the wrong people,” she told me.  “I don’t know where I went wrong. Took him to church as a kid; he even got himself into community college just a few months before he was shot. It still makes no sense.”

What could I say?  I was sorry; I told her that her story made me think of another parent who was grieving that day as I shared that afternoon’s sadness with her–another boy, younger than her son, and by his own hand.

We talked deeply about this generation of kids, worried about them, loved them and feared them.  Oh, these kids! Born in a time where the dark world gathers close in an instant, where at the touch of a finger, bad news abounds and meaning leeches out of life into a vapid void where all things are reported–from massacres to dipshit celebrity fashion.  We ached for these kids who now face a limitless world and are yet confined by mere circumstance, by pressures, by the facts of life. Kids anxious to escape, to act, to take control, but not knowing what direction to go and not trusting any of the structures created by the generations that came before them.  Kids on the edge of my generation but different than my fellows, who could at least remember when those structures made sense and ordered life in a pre-digital age.

I felt only sadness and fear and a willingness to sit in that sadness and fear as one of them, and to wade into their troubles with others who love them. It was a strange, filling-empty feeling.

Destination 2: Reorientation Class

That strange feeling reminded me of something one of the Jesuits influencing my life just now had said at the funeral–well, re-said, actually, as it was originally Mother Teresa who observed,

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Mother Teresa’s words struck me oddly, probably since they struck twice, as the Hongkongese girl behind the counter handed me my order.

“I put drink for you in bag,” she said softly, her broken English making her shy. She’d been listening to us the whole time in-between call-in orders, apparently. She nodded to my new-found friend.  “I get one for her, also. You are kind. You are sad.”

I thanked her, really touched at her words and this simple kindness– a can of Coke from the cold fridge.  I farewelled my grieving friend as she, too, gathered her order and prepared to head home to her other living child, a mostly-grown daughter.

As I pulled away, the rain stopped and a strange, sticky humidity settled in that promised it wasn’t over yet.  The heat was oppressive when I finally stepped out of the car.  I thought consciously of the Coke in the bag; then I saw my apartment’s mailman, running late considering the hour, dashing back to his truck, sweating bullets out from under his black hair and cap.

I tapped on his window, which was deeply open in mail-truck fashion. In and away went the can of Coke.

Destination 3: Community

It was about a week later that my husband and I were having dinner with a friend from Egypt.  We were in his house, where his mother had prepared a veritable feast for us–stuffed duck, rice, stew, salad, served with wonderfully aromatic sauces.  We ate too much and talked about how life was different in Egypt, how strained the situation in so many places in the Muslim world was becoming yet again. We talked about the role of Christianity in the midst of it (our friend, though knowing many Muslims and a native Arabic-speaker himself, was brought up in the Coptic Christian Church; his perspective was undeniably interesting).

Then the guitar came out after supper, and we debated about the merits of old hymns versus modern Christian praise music until he broke up the debate by playing some songs while we sang.  As these things go, in a strange turn of ideation, he asked us if we would help him put on a prayer meeting for The Crescent Project, a ministry specifically created to build bridges between Christians and Muslims, at an event to take place on 9/11.

We accepted and we went. In spite of a cold, I stood next to our Egyptian friend on a stage  covered with the flags of nations while he led worship and sang. I sang a little in Arabic, for the first time in my life. And then we prayed, for a long time, for an impossible kind of peace, joining hands with members from more than ten churches in Indiana, and with people from many of the most violent areas of the Middle East.

My sense of my reach of care and influence seemed to unfurl and roll past my boundaries of foot-trodden experience.  It had been to easy, living in one place most of my life, to read and see the news and forget how close these seemingly distant places are–and how near and dear the people.

It shamed me a little. I felt like a kid with my ignorant lack of vision, my lack of perspective.  Why had my world ever been so small–when in reality, it was Earth itself that was a small world? Why had my sense of companionship been so narrow and limiting before now?

Destination 4: Trying to See Clearly from Here

I don’t know how long this expanded sense of belonging, of intention, of concern–whatever you may call it–will last before I need to be dragged around on my harness again.  Yet, I can only hope this time around to at least not be so blind  as to fail to recognize when I need the reminder to expand my notions of community, or to see in another’s strange humanity the marks of my own struggles.

This is my world as much as theirs; my world as much as yours. But it’s easy to forget this; I know that.

We live in a time and place where minding our business is one way to simply stay sane.  It’s a strange era for humanity, in which so much is changing so quickly–sweeping away the old authorities, old notions, old standards, old bureaucracies, and yes, perhaps even sweeping away old notions of religion.  We’re all struggling with the confusion and fear and the isolation that comes with being essentially “rootless” in a violent storm of historic change.

Henri Nouwen writes about our shared predicament in his beautiful work, The Wounded Healer.  He calls this era of humanity “the nuclear man”–a humankind defined by its desire for separateness from, and its distrust of, what came before. It’s a simultaneously free-yet-self-doubting world of humanity that “lives by the hour and creates [their] li[ves] on the spot” (11).  We see this in our extraordinarily well-connected world today, digitally speaking, but we can’t help but notice that it lacks the tie to “immortality” that is, as Nouwen quotes Robert Lifton explaining, “‘man’s way of experiencing his connection with all human history'” (13).  We are unconnected from what birthed us because it came before, and so we bleed apart, severed umbilically, by the very newness of everything that has arisen now.

Our most recent generations have sought some ways out of this isolation we all face, to tap into that immortality again.  To break out of our cocoon, Nouwen observes, we have become alternately “mystics” or “revolutionaries” (15).  Our mystics have sought transcendence within themselves–through some internal ties to the divine, often through meditation and psychic searching.  Our revolutionaries have sought transcendence by beating a path towards a political Messiah, towards a leadership or government that would establish the perfectly free society.  Some have tried both paths, and in exhaustion, have become either paralyzed social critics or critics of the divine.

In the midst of these strivings and the energies they seize and the griefs they give to mystics and revolutionaries alike, I wish to walk with a little bit of both the mystic and the revolutionary in my soul, with my own bruised ego and ruined attempts in tow, just to keep both sides company. After all, we’re after the same thing, and we all need kindness and encouragement. Nouwen notes well that:

“For the mystic as well as for the revolutionary, life means breaking through the veil covering our human existence and following the vision that has become manifest to us. Whatever we call this vision–‘The Holy,’ ‘The Numinon,”The Spirit’ …. we still believe that conversion and revolution alike derive their power from a source beyond [our] limitations.” (21)

I take a little comfort in knowing that our souls are intertwined in the same exhausting, holy hopes. I also take great comfort in following that strange mystic/rebel–crucified for his defiance and his strange knowledge–who shook Hell by standing in the breach on behalf of a world gone wrong.

Until later,

 

Ruth

 

 

 

Source (Read. It. Seriously. Do.):

Nouwen, Henri J. M. The Wounded Healer. First Image Ed. 1972. New York: Doubleday, 1979. Print.

 

 

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