Before nodding off to sleep on Friday night, I was reflecting on how exactly these blog topics come to me. I hear lots of guiding, true words during each week – from scripture, from my friends, from my readings – but they might not make it onto the blog. The experience I choose to share always has some kind of transformative power to it. It goes beyond “just words” to being mysteriously healing. A true Word fixes people up and it’s real. This week’s story is like that.
It was Thursday after work, and I was hurrying to get to the Y for my workout. There was a dust-storm of thoughts going through my brain, all related to how I felt at the moment, which was tired. The last thing I felt like doing was starting up the treadmill. With spring break around the corner, I was hanging on to what felt like the last shreds of my sanity. When I’m like this, I start to long for an easier path and stress takes over. It could be a comedy routine, actually, these Woody-Allen type worries that whip around, and if I’d had the presence of mind, I would have laughed.
To add to the dust-storm, I had another thought – “I don’t even have a story for this week’s blog yet. Where exactly is God anyway?”
That was when, in the walkway above the pools at the downtown Y, I heard a healing Word. It sliced through my dusty thoughts and helped me to sit up straight. The Word was not new to me and was something Paul Patterson, minister at Watershed, told me some time ago. He had been telling me that I needed to stand against thoughts of wanting the easier way. See them as temptation and with God’s help, stand strong against them. He added the punchline that now came back to me. “God help you if you go soft.”
“Oh yeah,” I remembered. “These thoughts are temptations. They are not the only story going on.” I still felt tired, but it was like now I only felt tired. I no longer felt defeated by the tiredness. Teresa of Avila, 14th century Spanish mystic and nun, famously said, “All things pass, but God never changes.” Good words to remember during a dust storm.
Last weekend on Saturday, a few friends were having supper together, and Lorna shared a reading from author Richard Rohr that had stuck with her. It came back to me last night as I was reflecting on this blog topic. It’s a longer quote, but I wanted to share it because it contains a helpful image, and it’s a warning about what happens when we forget the bigger picture of our lives.
Without a mythological context, sacred text, or some symbolic universe to reveal the greater meaning and significance of our life, we can become trapped in our own very small story. And in that limited story, without any larger perspective, our wounds can make us into embittered victims. We just keep repeating the story line to ourselves over and over, and soon it suffocates us like a python.
The Jesus way is to embrace our wounds and accept them as the price of the journey. We can choose to carry out wounds with dignity until the time comes when we forget why they were so important or debilitating to begin with.
The people I know well all have pythons hovering nearby. One friend struggles with worry, another with perfectionism, another with depression and still another with the temptation to gain acceptance through success. These are all real struggles, but to see them as “small stories” is infinitely helpful. If we don’t, they suffocate us like a python.
That moment in the walkway above the pools at the Y was like a camera lens zooming out away from my small story, onto the bigger Story that has found me. I remembered our good friend Cal, who turned 50 that day. We’ve known Cal for over 20 years, and he’s part of our house church community. He too has pythons hovering nearby, but he keeps himself steeped in the sacred text that Rohr wrote about. He has a heart for God and has been a faithful friend with his gift to make people laugh and feel cared about. “Thank you God for Cal,” I prayed. Later, when I phoned him to wish him happy birthday, I told him thank you for giving me a good excuse to pray. He is part of the bigger Story.
In the above quote, some might wonder at the line that we must “embrace our wounds.” Is this “Jesus way” about living in pain? In a way, yes, but that’s not the whole picture. My understanding of this is that we are all wounded anyway, in some deep way. No one in this world has gotten away without that, not even those who seem the happiest. Whenever I try to deny it, it gets the better of me. I love Jesus because he was human, like me. He suffered but in his suffering he stayed connected to Who he loved. He called him Father, but I understand that God is much bigger than one gender.
Here is the rest of the Rohr quote:
I think we carry our wounds until the end; they do not fully go away but keep us humble, patient and more open to trust and intimacy. The healing lies in the fact that those same wounds no longer defeat us or cause us to harm ourselves or others. My favorite mystic, Lady Julian of Norwich, puts it this way, “our wounds become our honors.”
God help me to remember the bigger story of my life. Help me to stay patient in dust storms.
“We are often troubled, but not crushed; sometimes in doubt, but never in despair.”
– 2 Corinthians 4:8