Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Let my heart be broken...

"I remember the exact moment I stopped believing in God," she said, a trace of guilt in her voice. "It was on March 4, 2003...about two in the afternoon, a little after lunch," she said. "That was the day God took my grandmother."

These words were related by Kevin Ryan, president of Covenant House, an organization that shelters and aids homeless kids. He was quoting a teen he called Angela who had no father and whose mother had died when she was five. After her grandmother died in 2003, her older sister died, when Angela was but 17. I am quoting this story simply because I cannot quote the ones told to me by my patients in confidence. But the brutal pain of life's tragedies is not limited to an anonymous teenager in a fund raising letter. It is right here, in our midst, often masked behind faces trying stoically to go on in a world that seems impossibly empty. 

As I think back to my special posting for Easter, I contemplate my reference to "His victory over death" and wonder - how could I write such a thing in this world where death and suffering abound? Where is the victory? My lovely sentiments may seem to make some sense when we suffer the loss of a loved one who has lived out a full life, leaving their families the physical and emotional means to carry on. But so many deaths are not like that. What about the deaths of children? What about the deaths of countless innocents in natural disasters and wars? What about the death of someone so vital to our existence that we can no longer fathom the possibility of a loving God?

I wish I knew the answer to that. I truly do. But since I don't, let me share a spiritual experience from my own life that has kept me hanging on to faith even when it seems to make no sense to do so. This occurred on an ordinary day when I was in college, on 10/7/75, to be exact. I know the date because I wrote it in a journal. As I have related elsewhere, in my younger years, I was relentlessly pursuing (or perhaps pursued by) God, all the while questioning, believing, then doubting again. One day, some words came to me while I was sitting in my dorm room and I wrote them down. I do not remember the exact context, but I know that I was at a point in my professional growth were I was feeling deeply the horrible pain experienced by people I was sent to serve in my field work in social services. The words that came to me were these:

In My wounds shall be your stronghold.
No longer shall you be standing and watching My
   Passion from afar,
but you shall be right there,
   in My hands,
   in My feet,
   in My side,
   sharing in My most intense pain.
And only when you have come to understand
   the depths of My suffering
shall you come to share in the joys of My resurrection.
Be patient
   and endure with everlasting trust
   and inconquerable love.
I shall remain with you,
   and you with Me,
   now and forever.

As I reflect back, it seems that the appearance of these words in my life were an important part of learning who I was and who I was to be in relation to Him. I could be a believer who went to church on Sundays. I could be a kind person who lived a good life. Or I could enter into the suffering with Him. The notion of the crucified body was not just the corpse of a man executed 2000 years ago but it was a body made up of the suffering people around me. And I was being invited into the wounds, the most painful parts of that body. I was going to share in that pain. There was no other way.

My life has been process of saying yes to that invitation, often in ways that I have not anticipated. I had thought when I started out that I was just saying yes to being with others and sharing in their pain. I didn't know at the time that it also meant that I would have my own pain and others would come to share it with me. However, along the road of life, I have discovered that both parts are essential - for how could I truly be with you in your pain if I had no idea what it was like to suffer myself? The path to His victory, I have  learned, is not an easy and glorious one. It is one that is sometimes dark and without direction and sometimes so senseless that it makes you want to scream. But then you share the path with someone or they share it with you and there is a power in the love that makes everything else in life seem trivial. There is a strength and a beauty to the victory that goes beyond any accomplishment of this world. We only catch occasional glimpses of it. But it is real. I have experienced it, though not through any doing of my own.

My title for this posting is also the title of a book I came across in a used bookstore, some years after the above words came to me. It caught my attention. When I opened the book to understand its intriguing title, I read the full quote:

Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.

And so my heart breaks with you when you are in pain. And His heart breaks with you in your pain. But it is not a destructive breaking. It is the outpouring of the Gift. I do not understand it - but still I embrace it and every day keep trying to say yes.