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STRANGE TRANSACTIONS

“Is there any way you can just knock me out?”.  As the words left my mouth I realized I sounded a quarter of my age.  “If we knock you out, your eyes will roll back, and that would defeat the purpose.” she said while escorting me to another examination room.  Why is it that we can put humans on the moon, and magically remove hemorrhoids but can’t find a better way to remove metal from an eyeball? Is this the twenty first century?  “Would you hold my hand?” now when those words left my lips I sounded a fifth of my age.  At this point I didn’t care, I am squeamish when it comes to certain things.  I once gave myself a black eye in the optical department at Sears trying to install a free trial pair of contact lenses. Circumstances like this don’t help.  But after a topical solution to numb the surface, the nurses warm hand to numb my fears and the Doctor’s digging skills with a microscopic spade – the object had been removed, and with it my pain and anxiety.

Sixteen years ago I was sitting in the nosebleeds of the Altanta Georgia Dome listening to an enthusiastic southern black preacher.  I had been drawn to this Youth Ministry conference by several of my favorite authors who would be speaking later that evening.  I had never heard this man preach before, and regretted that fact after hearing his passion.  “I want you to turn to the brotha or sista behind you and take the next fifteen minutes and confess your sins one to another” – I loved the rhythmic way he punctuated words that ended in an ‘s’. If any one else had of asked me to awkwardly turn to a stranger and unload the dirty bits of my heart, I would have balked.  Something was present in this moment that not only made this feel right, it felt important.  I turned around to see the face of my priest and met the eyes of compassion.  The beauty of this exercise is rooted in the fact that neither of us will ever see each other again.  The Dome was electric with the sound of transgressions being voiced. It was only awkward for the first few minutes, then the freedom of secrets shared was unstoppable.   The long walk back to the hotel as the session closed would be amazing, so much to think about.  I squeezed into the elevator and stood at the back to make room for others.  The quiet hum of sober conversations was interrupted by two men in mid conversation who squeezed in and quickly turned to face the closing doors.  “I don’t confess my sins to anyone.” the taller, artificially tanned gentlemen said to his handler.  I say handler because this man happened to be the reason I flew to Georgia.  He looked more plastic than on his book covers, and sounded more plastic than his talks.  “I’m not a catholic, I confess my sins to Jesus” He said arrogantly to the young man nodding in agreement, most likely because thats what he is paid to do.  I was shocked, and a little bit angered.  Criticism is never an attractive thing to watch someone give.  I expected such a different attitude from someone I had believed in.  Six floors is along time to listen in on someone’s conversation, made easier when they talk in a volume that gives the assurance they want you to hear.  The long walk to my hotel seemed to have redeemed itself as I concluded that I would warm homeless people by burning his books and videos.

Something magical happens in moments when we share our hurts, our fears, or even offer a warm hand of comfort in a hospital ER.  There is a transaction of sorts that can’t be explained or measured by science.  It is one thing to be aware of someone’s burden but a completely other thing to share in it.  It is like the feeling you get when you have a coffee with a distressed friend and as you drive home your completely exhausted.  The conversation, and the emotion leave you wrecked for the rest of the day.  And often hours later you receive a text from that same friend thanking you for your listening ear, or kind words, and that the rest of their day was fantastic.  Do you ever wonder what transpired in those moments.  Somehow their misery and pain was transferred, at least in part on too you and your joy or comfort too them.  I am ashamed to think of how many drives  home I said ‘that’s the last time I do that before lunch, my day is spent’.  I have come to realize there is a price for sharing in each others burdens.  That is how you know your’ve actually shared.  I have come to discover that this transaction that occurs whether when we spend time with, or pray for the needs of others, whether it is in the line at the funeral home, or in the typing of a response in a text – it is spiritual.  Christian community should not only afford this, it should assume it.  Paul writes to the Galatian Christians and encourages them to share each others burdens, and by doing it you share in the spirit and purpose of Christ. (my paraphrase) This beautiful transaction that takes place, while it might feel like a withdrawal, is really a deposit.  This is the presence of God, his spirit.  And if it is  such a powerful thing for us to share in each others burdens, imagine what 1 Peter 5:7 implies when he encourages us to share our burdens with God.  A beautiful transaction is waiting to happen.  Not one that says, ‘I will take that burden,’ some burdens we must carry – but one that offers to be with us in our burden.

Many people don’t understand the mystery of this phenomenon.  Some Christians like my old Youth Ministry Icon misunderstand how it is that God shows up in our lives.  A nun in the 15th century, Theresa of Avila says it best in her poem

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

When we deny others the opportunity to confess, we deny our ability to be used of God to share in their burden.  When we deny it for others, we deny it for ourselves.  What a self righteous place to be.

I am convinced that when I pray for God to take from me the burden that is too great for me to carry, sometimes he says this one you must bear, but not alone.  And when God shows up to help me in my distress , he looks an awful lot like one of you.

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