Friday, 24 March 2017

Mud, Ministry, and Miracles

Long walk this evening. Large wet snowflakes lightly covering branches and all things. Two cardinals singing, invisible in treetops. Sparrows chirping from inside cedar bushes. Reminds me of a poem I wrote many years ago at the convent:

Be still
and listen
to the sound

Wondering. Remembering. Puzzling about mud and ministry and miracles.

from Google Images

I discovered this image of mud and miracles this afternoon while putting together Sunday's bulletin cover - John 9. 1 - 41 is the Gospel for Lent 4, Year A. The healing of the man born blind. Jesus spat on the ground, made paste of mud, placed it on the man's eyes, and told him to go and wash his eyes in the Pool of Siloam. And lo and behold, the man could see.

Mud and miracles. 

Jesus Mafa image - from google Images

from Google Images

I was blind, and now I see. Or at least I have begun to see.

August 1971, Phebe and Phil Jacobs stopped off at Trinity Mountain Camp in Connecticut (where I was working) on their way west, having visited the summer convent in Duxbury first. Phebe told me I was going to Haiti that fall. WHAT??!! How she knew (and I didn't) is another story. It was actually an educated guess. I did NOT want to go. Leaving home or being sent away has always been an underlying child terror. Not to mention very large tarantulas and other creepy crawlies. 

But go I did in October. Sacristan at Cathédrale Ste-Trinité and director of Ecole Ste-Marguerite, the afternoon literacy programme for girls (many of whom were what is now called restaveks) who were unable to attend regular school.

Two experiences of mud in Haiti:

One of our children had been ill and was missing for a couple of weeks. Jeanne Romain (Cathedral member and volunteer at Ecole Ste-Marguerite) took me to try to find her along the muddy paths that became narrower and narrower between homes in one of the poorest areas of Port-au-Prince ... a symbol of the journey into the mysteries of poverty, reality, humanity, and awe that Haiti gave me. Transformation begun. Beginning to see. We found, sadly, that our little girl had died.

I don't know where I'd 'lived' before Haiti. Well, I do. I'd lived in a shell of unconsciousness. Aware and not aware of the world around me because so much energy was going into survival - clinging to illusions of safety and imagining that if I prayed hard enough, God would answer ... searching for perfection - to belong - accepted - loved - to be lost in God ... depressed, in fact.


One night the Sisters went to an ecumenical service at the Salvation Army Citadel - again in one of the poorest areas of the city - It had rained at 5:30, as it often did. Down, down we seemed to walk in mud and darkness - to a profound experience of lively worship and real people. I have such admiration for the Salvation Army as they minister with the poorest of the poor. "Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God." Micah 6.8 

September 17, 1975. My first visit with psychiatrist, Dr. John Terry Maltsberger (who died October 5, 2016) in Belmont, Massachusetts. He asked, "How long have you been depressed?" If I had known then what I know now, I'd have said, "All my life." As it was, I didn't even know there was a word for the unfathomable darkness I eventually called The Pit. 

A few years into therapy, I distinctly remember JTM (as I called him) saying, "Come down into the mud with the rest of us." Terrified of knowing, of loving, of being loved - in short - of living fully. It's been a long journey.

Mud. We're all in the mud. Yet, Jesus uses mud to heal. We're made of mud - of earth - the Spirit's breath blown into us bringing us to life.  Healing mud.

Unhealing mud. Recently I found a Youtube video of children in slavery in the Democratic Republic of Congo mining in mud for cobalt to be used to make our cellphones and other electronic devices. Digging tunnels that sometimes collapse, killing all who are inside. Working with cobalt, a dangerous substance.

Where's this going?

On CBC radio last week, a doctor in the US spoke about doing work which is controversial yet necessary. With compassion and mercy. He has had death threats.  He is a man of faith doing what he is called to do. He said, "I could live to be 100. If I don't follow a path of compassion and mercy - my call - I may live to 100 but be dead inside from the age of 35 because I chose not to live fully.  If I am killed, die young, at least I will have lived." 

I think he's choosing to live in the mud with others who are also living in the mud. Alive.

Haiti set me on a different path that I could never have foreseen. First, came a breakdown/breakthrough. A long hard (understatement) journey in the mud to healing. And, Haiti pointed me to ministry on the fringes of our world - with others who are suffering - whether from mental illness, cancer, the effects of poverty ... This is my call.

Monday of the first week of Lent, Charles Mangongo one of several priests in the local RC parish originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, preached a sermon that not only touched me deeply, but reminded me/us of the way to which we are called.

I use parts of his homily with permission. Forgive me if it is not perfectly translated. 

"L’appel à la sainteté est universel. Tous nous sommes y sommes appelés... les deux lectures très abondantes, nous donnent des pistes pouvant nous aider à marcher sur le chemin de la sainteté."

"The call to holiness is universal and we are all called... the two rich readings show us the path to follow, helping us to walk the road of holiness."

The first reading from Leviticus 19: 
"Be holy because the Lord your God is holy.... don't steal, don't lie, don't take my name in vain, don't exploit your neighbour ... don't revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind ... you shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbour, or you will incur guilt yourself... you shall love your neighbour as your self..."

"Pourquoi il y a-t-il encore du mal dans notre monde aujourd’hui ? La haine, la violence, le vol, le mensonge, le faux témoignage, l’oppression, l’injustice, la vengeance... ? C’est parce que nous nous sommes détournés de la voie de la sainteté à laquelle Dieu nous a tous appelés. Il nous appelle à aimer notre prochain comme nous-mêmes. Et c’est le même message que Jésus nous lance dans l’évangile à travers le récit de sa venue à la fin des temps."

"Why is there still evil in our world today? Hatred, violence, theft, lying, false testimony, oppression, injustice, vengeance..? It's because we have turned away from the path of holiness to which God calls us all. God calls us to love our neighbour as ourselves. And it is the same message Jesus gives us ... " (in the Gospel)

The Gospel: Matthew 19. 34-40
‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 

"Jesus shows us that He is in the person who is hungry, who is thirsty; He is present in the stranger, the one who needs clothes, who is ill or a prisoner. Every time we reach out to these persons, we do it for him. Every time we close our hearts to the sufferings of others, we cause him to suffer." 

"Bref, au soir de notre vie, nous serons jugés pour l’amour et par amour ! Pour l’amour, à cause de nos actes, et par amour à cause de Dieu qui n’est qu’Amour et qui veut le bonheur de tous ses enfants... Que ce temps du  Carême que nous venons de commencer nous aide à porter un regard d’amour sur toutes ces personnes que nous pourrons rencontrer sur notre chemin et qui ont besoin d’être secourues et aimées. Soyons bienveillants comme Dieu notre Père est bienveillant envers tous. Amen !"
                 Père Charles Mangongo Male, rsv

"At the end of our lives, we will be judged on love and by love! On love by our actions, and by love because God is only love and wants the happiness of all His children... May this time of Lent ... help us to see with love all the people we meet on our journey and who need our help and love. May we be kind as God is kind to all."

So - is the miracle that we begin to truly see our brothers and sisters - and ourselves - with the love God has for each of us? And seeing, act upon it?

Let's go play in the mud. Sacred play.

from Google Images

from Google Images

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