31 October 2012

Where is God when disaster happens?

God's heart is the first to break.

I say this often at the jail. Tales of disappointment, woe, grief, rage. All of these usually bring the question, "Where is God in all this?" In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy that has devastated Haiti and Cuba and the eastern third of the US, and now trails on into Canada, there are no answers but this: God's heart is the first to break.

Many years ago, there was a short-lived TV show. I've long since forgotten the name, but in one of the first episodes, there was a conversation between a man and a priest. The man was cynical, bitter, made a flippant comment about God.

The priest, young, earnest, and female, asked him about his attitude. Why was he like this?

He didn't answer at first, but finally came the story. His wife, a journalist in the Middle East, had been killed by a car bomb. He death devastated him. "Where was God when she died?"

The priest didn't answer for a long time.

Later, when they met again, she said to him, "When your wife died, God's heart was the first to break."

Listening to stories at the jail, it's not hard to think of God sitting down on the sidewalk or in the sand, holding this Beloved Child, and heaving great sobs of grief. God's heart is the first to break.     

I pray that everyone who listens to the grief of another has that same openness of heart.

04 October 2012

What Most Tourists Don't See

I can't let the Feast of St. Francis slip away without a look at one of my favorite places in his home town.

This is Santa Maria Maddalena outside the city of Assisi. It's a little chapel, definitely not on the tourist track. If you're on the bus between Rome and Florence, you make a three-hour stop in Assisi. You don't get to see much beyond the Basilica of St. Francis. Most people never see the Basilica of St. Clare at the opposite end of town. And it's the rare person who comes to this little place.

But in Francis' day, this was a place where lepers were cared for. One of the stories about this Italian playboy's conversion tells of his meeting a leper and kissing him. That encounter, among others, changed his life.

There's nothing fancy to see here. No gift shop. But the memory of fragile people spills out of the stones. 

This chapel reminds me of the county jail in downtown Seattle. In its day, the Ick Factor was strong. Who'd want to go to this place and be around those people? And yet, grace and peace and healing abound.

You can read more about it here.

02 October 2012

In Need of a Blessing

To receive this blessing,
all you have to do
is let your heart break.
Let it crack open.
Let it fall apart
so that you can see
its secret chambers,
the hidden spaces
where you have hesitated
to go. ...

I was cleaning up some space on my computer tonight and stumbled upon these two lovely things. The picture is of St. Christine the Astonishing. The blessing, I can't remember where I found it or that I'd saved it, but tonight, it was what I needed to see.

01 October 2012

Walk a Mile in My Shoes

I only Googled "jail shoes" on a whim. Why then was I surprised to find this among the images that resulted? I laughed. "They'll never believe me," I thought.

"They" of course are the people I see at the county jail, the ones wearing red shirts and pants and orange socks. It's not an outfit anyone would choose to wear (though the number of images that come up when you Google "jail outfit" might lead you to think otherwise). 

At any rate, I was thinking about their shoes. Rose and I were finishing up a prayer service, sitting in a tight circle with eight men. It had already been a note-worthy service. We are mostly there to accompany the men in their prayer for one another. We'd listened to the readings and reflected on them together, prayed some general prayers for a variety of things (think of those General Intercessions at Sunday Mass). There'd been a few giggles during that portion. One prayer was labeled "for those with addictions" and the man who read it said he was stressing out about going to court with a drug conviction because he was looking at considerable time in prison over his addictions, and wasn't it clear that God chose this prayer for him to read?

The group grunted understanding, said, "It figures, bro," and we went on.

Except we couldn't go on. That same young man was called out of our circle, so he left.

Prayer continued. We blessed one another with holy water, a reminder of the freedom that Baptism promises us, and then we prayed. Joe said he wanted prayer for his family. Dan prayed for Joe. Then Dan wanted prayer for his girlfriend who'd stopped answering the phone three weeks ago. Doug prayed for Dan. Doug said his mom was in the hospital and Jesse prayed for her. Jesse wondered out loud how his wife and kids were going to have enough to eat since he wasn't home and it was the end of the month. 

Around and around the circle we went. Each man said what it was that needed prayer and the man next to him gave voice to the prayer. We all said "Amen."

And then our drug addicted friend came back to the circle looking stunned. 

"I just talked to my lawyer," he said. "I'm not going to prison. I'm going to treatment." He sat down hard. "It's because you prayed." There was a moment of awe.

Down the hall, I could hear the sounds of shift change. We needed to conclude. We pulled the circle in tighter and that's when I really noticed the shoes.

I tapped Tom on my left and said, "Would you put one of your shoes in the middle here?" He did.

"This shoe represents every person in this circle, in each dorm, on this floor, and on every floor of the jail today. And this shoe," Tom added his other shoe, "is for every officer on shift now, and coming on shift soon." Jim put a shoe into the circle and we prayed for all the other staff who keep the jail running;
     --for the officers on the street;
     --for their lawyers, and the prosecutors, and the judges;
     --for their families who counted on them;
     --for the people who'd given up on them;
     --for the communities they'd frightened or put on edge;
     --for people who make laws motivated by fear or need to control;
     --for those in prison around the world;
     --for those on death row.

We piled up the prayers as we piled up the shoes. Then we extended our hands and asked God to bless all that the shoes represented.

Leaving that place, every shoe is a reminder of the prayer that surrounds and carries us. Every step is a prayer, especially when we have no words and don't know how to pray. Even plastic shoes can be a sign of God's lavish mercy and boundless care.

And tonight I think of a praying pilgrim named Claire who will set out for the Camino in Spain soon. Claire, pray for us. We pray for you as you continue The Way. You can follow Claire's journey here.