February 4, 2018
Our readings today are about remaining faithful amidst hopelessness, despair, and darkness.
They are about relationship, and recognizing that the journey through life is hard, and while God offers no explanation, really, for why we suffer, still God yearns to connect.
They are about discovering that healing and reconciling are still possible even though Jesus has moved on to another town.
Let me share a story of a modern-day Job, and an experience of healing. A story that shows it’s possible to remain faithful amidst utter hopelessness and darkness. A story that taps into the healing power of Jesus even though his robes were out of reach, and his name wasn’t even mentioned. A story about authentic raw relationship and reconciliation.
The story is simply called “Presence.”
She was angry, depressed and exhausted. She was tired of being taken for granted, tired of working without recognition, and tired of being ignored. She felt worse than Cinderella. Overwhelmed by it all, she threw the wash cloth in the kitchen sink, ran up to the bedroom, slammed the door, and collapsed in tears on the bed.
Exhaustion and depression were her twin demons. They fueled each other, and could seemingly pull her into their grip at will. She wasn’t just tired; she was exhausted to the bone. For weeks, no appreciation or affirmation had recharged her batteries. She wasn’t just melancholy; she was depressed. Never had she felt so isolated and alone.
A short while later he slipped into the room. She had her back to him, and he came up behind her and laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. With a jerk she rejected it. The message was clear. “Don’t touch me!”
But after a few moments he laid his hand there again; gently, surely. Sometimes love and remorse are best expressed in silent presence. Neither one moved for long moments. In the prolonged silence he felt her shoulders relax, if only slightly.
He risked further by rubbing them gently. She was about to jerk again, but his touch was soothing. Tension was draining away, so she allowed him to rub. “I’m still mad, really mad,” she thought to herself.
The silence hung for a long time. He knew her anger was justified. Indeed, he had taken her for granted and basically ignored her for weeks, all the while expecting everything to be just right at home, especially since his own job had recently been so stressful.
He also knew she would rather be alone with her anger and tears. Yet somehow he knew that, for the sake of their relationship, his presence was paramount. Something told him to remain present even though she didn’t want it right now. Something told him to show her in a silent, firm way that he was finally hearing her cries. Something told him that at this moment the totality of their marriage was all rolled up in presence. Somehow he knew that this is the only way they might reconcile.
After many long minutes, she finally turned to him with red eyes and tear-stained cheeks. He offered a weak, apologetic grin. Yet, at that moment, both somehow knew that they could now reconcile; that they could begin to talk through the problem and find solution. But more importantly, both had a strong feeling they had just been guided through a potentially dangerous experience and had somehow been saved.
(Marriage and the Spirituality of Intimacy. Leif Kehrwald. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1996. pp. vii-viii.)
Two closing thoughts. One on Job, and one on Jesus.
Job. The fascinating aspect of the Book of Job is that we might think it would end with an image of how suffering and pain allow us to gain something. But God doesn’t do that. God doesn’t give any clear explanation of why there is suffering.
The challenge of the Job story is to enter into a kind of relationship that isn’t based on anything except for the fact that we have chosen it. Our challenge is to be in love with God on that level — not on the level for what we can get. Job doesn’t really understand what’s going on at the time. That’s called faith. The couple in our story doesn’t really know what’s going on, but they remain faithful to each other through simple, painful presence.
Jesus. When all of the people seemingly need him the most, he goes away to pray. The disciples say to him, “Look, everybody needs you. Everybody wants your healing.” Jesus then says, “Hmmm, let’s go to another place and preach.”
Jesus knows that his gift has already been given to them. That this healing power, is something they possess as they listen to his message and begin to share it among themselves. The healing is done. That’s why the preaching is primary. It’s putting the message into hearts so they will be able to give it to others.
When darkness surrounds you. When you suffer. When you feel that Jesus has up and left, take comfort in the words of our opening prayer today, “God is close, connected, and engaged with our lives. God knows every single thing that is going on. God pays attention to every one of our tears, every one of our joys, every one of our concerns.”