Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Learning from Students

My student asks, “You mean the bible’s not all written by one person? You mean it’s all different people? “ I can see her wonder, her perception of this Book shattered. It’s not neat anymore.

“Yes, it’s all different writers,” I say. “Over more than a thousand years.” The class is sitting in a circle, spring sunshine warming us through bright windows. We’ve just read some of Exodus, and are part way through the Gospel of Mark. It’s all becoming real. It’s all becoming complicated.

“It’s a conversation,” says another student. He's chewing gum. Doesn't think I notice.

“About God,” someone adds. “And with God.” They’ve been listening.

I can see the first student thinking about it.

“It’s a conversation that’s still going on,” I add. “We’re part of it. Together.”

“But everyone thinks differently about God!”

I laugh. “Yes, that’s the point. God is big. Too big for any one of us to understand. All we can do is feel that presence. Every single one of us. And reach out to God through and with each other.”

The bell rings, time to leave, to think of other things.

I leave wondering if my students actually learned anything from me today. But I know one thing. Today I had a conversation with God.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Resurrection: An Alzheimer's Reflection

We sit staring at the multi-colored fish in the huge wall aquarium, keeping the conversation going. The Alzheimer wing is bright, friendly and my uncle John, its newest resident, is well cared for.

I am no more than a bystander in John’s life, now an unknown stranger. Most painfully, he no longer knows his wife, his three children, his sister or his brother (my father). But he thanks my father and I for coming. Repeatedly. He periodically asks who we are, and where we are staying. He smiles. He comments, “Aren’t we doing well?”

And he is, really, in the grand scheme of things. His wife loves him, misses him, and has been able to care for him well beyond the point most reach. She has found him a good facility close to her home. He has children and grandchildren in town who visit, and a sister and brother who travel from their distant towns as often as possible. His wife and children suffer tremendously, but they are loving him with grace, endurance, and depth.

My father and I talk about family, tell John how everyone is doing. We ask him how the food is here; he says he can’t really remember. My father talks about his own latest singing gig, a St Patrick’s Day event, and launches into one of the songs. John knows a few of the words, so my father tries Danny Boy next. From the first word John joins in. And sings every word. He knows it all.

Then he looks at my father and says, “You’re my brother Tom?” My father smiles.

The moment passes. John asks who we are again. We talk some more and it’s time to part, to bid farewell. I take a picture of the brothers, smiling, and John says, “This’ll be a good one.” It is.

Then he walks us strangers to the exit with its security code. We say good-bye again. I can tell he no longer knows who he is hugging. But just as the door closes, he says to my father, “I love you, you know.”

I don’t know if he knows who he said it to. I don’t know if he still understands what it means. But it’s there again, the resurrection, just for a moment. And we know, someday, forever.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Good Friday

Sometimes you lose your footing in the world, find yourself spiraling down and around, grasping at bits of air, pointlessly spinning, lost in nothingness.

Sometimes, the enormity of mortality weighs you down, hard splintered wood against your back, crushing the heart. How are some truths possible?

Which is worse, the directionless spin of the void, or the terror of the solid cross?

God says choose the cross, but you cry not now, not me, not ever. Please

And then God says, I’ll carry it with you. One step. Then another.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Holy Week

How do you keep this week holy? What does it mean to walk the ‘way of the cross’ for you?

This somber week calls us to recognize our mortality, the quick passage of our time together. The tragedy of Jesus’ last days lies not just in the torture, the unfair condemnation, the name-calling, and the final excruciating hours of pain before death. It also lies in the isolation of his plight. Jesus walks alone, without friend or companion to help him on his way. Peter deserts him. Simon of Cyrene only helps him because he is forced to. Veronica is pushed away after wiping his face, and Mary can only approach in the final moments.

If Holy Week teaches us anything, it is to stand by our friendships to the end. Would all the disciples have been crucified if they had stood by Jesus? Or would the weight of their presence have changed Pilate’s heart?

Holy Week calls us to solidarity by showing us what happens without it. This week the students of my school will be showing their solidarity with land mine victims. They will be taking pictures of their lower legs and sending them to Mines Action Canada in a show of support for the victims of cluster bombs. It may not stop indiscriminate bombing. It will not solve every problem. But perhaps for someone somewhere, the weight of the cross will become just a little lighter.

Holy Week makes me ask, where can I show my solidarity with the poor, the lonely, the sick or the oppressed? Who is stumbling on the road to Calvary before me? Who is falling under the weight of their cross? And can I forget my own cross long enough to reach just a little further, just a little more to give them a hand?