I am sick, isolated, feeling hopeless. The world tells me I am unwanted, unloved, worse; unneeded. That I am useless, a drain on society’s resources, on my caring husband’s time. A waste of space and breath. It does not say these things out loud or in full, but nevertheless I feel the hot breath of its derision shame my face; see the fortune cookie crumble onto the table of life, emptying its prediction for me: a blank piece of paper. Without words, it says, you have no future.
I was young and healthy once. Anxious, yes, skinny-weak and striving too hard. But alive, able, I would be special, something would happen. God would carry me into some kind of greatness, even if it would be martyrdom. Good things were waiting. I would bless the world.
The Better Way
Maybe it would have happened that way if I had held the faith, not wanted a family so badly. Maybe if I had kept my eyes on the one needful thing and rested my head on the one dear knee that mattered, listened to what was really being said to my heart. Maybe. But I strayed just enough, loved a man too much, valued my cleverness and my work ethic, thinking all these things were for God and of God. When the better Way was to be still, and begin to know.
This heart was always his and after the cruelty and its breaking of my mind and body, the stillness did find me. It gathered up the pieces of me and took me away. Not home, not yet. But to a safe place. There were oceans of tears, future ideals and goals shredded into basketfuls with more left over. Sulking, sourness, some recovery and then another fall, still deeper. One I never recovered from. I could only ever look back up at the cliff top and shake my head in wonder that it was where I used to live.
There was a place there, shattered on the rocks, empty of everything but surrender. Promises were made then that have never failed me, and a new life began. Never again a wrong focus if I could help it, I said, stumbling back into sin and then back out into grace so many times. But I learned that this Resurrection Life is always waiting, always there. I can blink, turn my head a tiny degree, see it out of the corner of my eye, be back there in an instant of will.
The Resurrection Life runs deep beneath the world and its strange delusions, holds the antidote to its neon promises. It runs as a river swelling truth under the lies. And whenever we fall through into it, no matter how many times, it will always carry us.
Every breath is a death and a resurrection. A tidal exchange, a beginning and an ending. A letting go and a receiving. The Resurrection Life begins again each time in that moment of surrender. Always, as St. Benedict counselled us, we begin again. Maybe we are “born again” not just once, but many times after our first statement of faith, and our conversion to Christ is our lifelong purpose. St. Clare tells St. Agnes to gaze into the mirror of the crucified Christ that she may, “transform your entire being into the image of the Godhead Itself through contemplation.” (Clare of Assisi, “The Third Letter to Agnes of Prague 12-13 (Ecrits)”, quoted in Delio, Ilia, Clare of Assisi: A Heart Full of Love, 2007, Franciscan Media pg 30.)
This is where it began for me, where everything has its source, in prayer. A giving and re-giving, a pendulum that swears it will not move away this time, even as it gears up to swing. But always we return, and the new wine is poured out once more, without a thought for who deserves how much.
When I was deemed ready, I found slowness. Silence. I had to dig for it, most of the time. The world does not want us quiet, formless, ready to serve. Years of waiting. The flames raging on around me. The world does not want us to remember the cool water beneath, or what might quench its power, its cacophony.
Then time given over on retreat. Desperate prayers for healing in St. Joseph’s chapel. Walking out a new creation. Unhealed, but somehow heard. And then the words began pouring. And the pictures. Stories followed. A fountain of colours and a rushing of words that has never faltered. The river rises.
I work as a sculptor does, chipping away at the ice, trying to mould water. I feel Christ’s hands on my elbows, guiding, teaching, forming. This is who I am now. Unrecognisable to the young, angular worrywart who would pass me by in the street. Who would shudder at the sight of my wheels, but maybe dare look up and cast me the bone of a frightened, over-zealous smile.
We change slowly, from “glory to glory,” not ours but His. There are big tumbles down grassy slopes, from which we gradually rise up to look about in awe, unsure where we have landed. The green is greener than ever before and there is a new pasture to graze. There are tiny increments of change on our spiritual barometers too, that we barely notice until we are glowing with the presence of the holy.
Looking back is probably as foolish as peering forwards. The progress too, is likely an illusion, and all I really have to show for it all are my empty hands and my weakness. All I see is a series of endings and beginnings. Screeching brakes and U-turns, along with the long, slow, steady turning of an oil-tanker, its enthusiasm having misjudged the width of the Way.
I am as much a work of fiction as fact, and my journey a myriad of stories all wound and bound together, ready to work into the Book of Life. None of it is linear, all of it is flow, and everything, most assuredly, is grace.