I am wide-awake in a dark hospital room. I survived a gruesome hiking accident that left me bloody and alone in the bottom of a ravine, but I’ve been told that I’ll have reconstructive jaw surgery the next day. My family and Franciscan sisters have gone home to sleep for the rest of the night. I am alone, except for the woman snoring behind the nearby curtain and the nurses who seem to materialize at my bedside to check my vitals.
Pain is pressing on my body. When I landed at the bottom of the cliff, my face shattered from eyebrows to chin. My hand and arm were crushed under my forehead, because I’d reflexively raised them to protect my skull as I slipped. Now my limbs are screaming reminders of what happened. I am bruised and bloody. I feel as if all the pieces of my bones would float away and disintegrate if it weren’t for the swollen flesh holding me together.
I want to scream, to groan about how my life has suddenly flipped on its side. I can’t sleep. I can’t relax. I don’t know how I’m going to make it through this dark, lonely night.
But somehow, my mind and heart turn from agony to appreciation; it’s the only choice I seem to have. I begin to pray: Thank you, God, for saving my life. Thank you for the excellent medical care. Thank for each person who has helped me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
This is the beginning of my latest column for “National Catholic Reporter’s” “Global Sisters Report.” Read more of “Groaning and gratitude” here.
After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)
Sometimes I like to dip my imagination into Scripture. This morning when I was praying with the baptism of Jesus from Luke, this is what I saw:
The banks of Granny’s Beach on the South Toe River in Celo, North Carolina. We used to swim there as kids. A clear blue morning and the ripple of the waves over the river rocks. Jesus stands calmly in the center, still wet from being dunked. Feet are deep into the sandy bottom of the chilly, spring-fed water. Jesus’ hand skims the surface, back slightly bent, eyes lowered in prayer.
I look around the banks. Obama kneels beside Paul Ryan. Angela Merkel and Pope Francis link hands. Their concentration is great as they stare into the chilly water—they have come seeking repentance and mercy. There sits my best friend, my mom, and my FSPA sisters. Beside them are Syrian refugees, prisoners solitarily confined, trafficked children from India, and a little girl in a wheelchair. The crowd is large and silent at Granny’s Beach. We have all come with our brokenness, sharing this moment with Jesus.
I still myself, feel the sandy soil solid beneath my own bare feet. And then I hear Jesus’ voice in prayer:
The sorrow in my heart is only overcome by mercy.
Dear Abba, Papi
Take all of this and make it new.
With my body I give you the very brokenness of Earth
And all her children, the systems that maim and kill,
The destruction, the mindless forgetting and the willful harm …
All your children—the cicadas, newborn babies, and volcanic rock …
I give you my own flesh.
They have no idea how gentle you are.
How outrageous is the abundance of your Love,
Powerful enough to heal and restore
Every broken cell
Of this Cosmic Body!
So I give you my body, this one life, that your love
May be released into this time and place
Like the lava of love that will never stop.
Grant me the grace to live each day as holy,
To reverence each face as your beloved
And to bear the suffering and resistance that
Will inevitably come
with the grace of your humble surrender,
infinite faith and extravagant love.
I love you with my whole self.
I give this one life I have totally to you.
And then the sky opens. We shield our eyes from the blinding light. Some form, perhaps like a dove, comes down with a sure and resounding voice.
You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.
May we all come to know this truth, whatever road we walk or load we bear.
In those days, in their thirst for water, the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?” So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? a little more and they will stone me!” The LORD answered Moses, “Go over there in front of the people, along with some of the elders of Israel, holding in your hand, as you go, the staff with which you struck the river. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock in Horeb. Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it for the people to drink.” This Moses did, in the presence of the elders of Israel. The place was called Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled there and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD in our midst or not?” –Ex 17:3-7
They’re full of doubt, confusion and despair. Many are thirsty for the meeting of basic needs and justice: the Israelites in the desert, Christians in our modern world, and all of humanity who has been impacted by oppression, natural disasters, war, violence, greed and all sin.
Like the Israelites, the unions of history were able to escape from slavery. We’ve all been liberated by God and unions for fair pay and hours, safe working conditions and proper benefits. I am so thankful for the justice that we have inherited from our union grandparents. The heroes and saints who freed us are not individuals, but entire communities.
Now our generation is wandering in the desert, not really sure what God is up to. The union story is not unlike our faith story. Although it sometimes takes a long time for things to be as they should, it doesn’t take long for us to take things for granted. It doesn’t take long for us to grumble against our leaders.
The Lenten season challenges us all. We realize our need for redemption, for Jesus and justice. We look in the mirror and read the news and then thirst for clarity, strong faith and strength. Our social sins are just as ugly as our personal ones.
In community we approach our dark struggles with actions of prayer, fasting and alms-giving. In our politics and faith, we wake up and notice that we have much to be grateful for, and this feeds us with hope. We thirst for justice and then we remember we’ve been redeemed before, so we trust. The ugly shall turn into Alleluias, and we’ll have joy all around.