Friday, October 19, 2018

Wheeling about

I went to California to see my dad, who's ill and for the moment in a care facility bridging the gap between hospital care and home. Wheelchairs were part of the landscape this trip.  Dotting the hallways, parked in corners, tucked between the curtains in the room. Occupied and not.  I felt tall in this community, where nearly everyone is in bed, or in a wheelchair, some so bent I could not see their faces.

The first night I left my dad's room, but it was late and various doors had been closed and lights turned out. I got turned around in the dark (this would a theme of this trip!) and couldn't find the exit. I walked past a man who seemed to be dozing in a wheelchair parked in the corner.  Suddenly he called out in a loud voice, something I couldn't figure out.  Had he mistaken me for someone else, or this place for somewhere else?  I turned to be sure he didn't need anything, and he looked up and me and repeated firmly, "¡Para alla!" My jet lagged brain flipped a switch into Spanish.  Directions to the exit. He then gave me careful and correct directions, in Spanish, to the main exit.

I came in on Sunday to find a family in one of the corridor alcoves, the elderly mother in a wheelchair, her daughter leaning forward to say, "Mom, you can choose to be happy." Her mother took a breath and replied, "I am sad." I wanted to cry for them both.

And then there was the elderly man in the wheelchair at the end of the offramp for Highway 101 in Salinas. Struggling to hold up a sign, though the inscription was illegible, I had no trouble reading it. Help me. There was no place to pull over and help. Huge trucks came rumbling off that ramp, heading for the coast.  Would they sideswipe him? Who do you call? I had no idea.

My temporary and relative vantage point left me feeling not powerful, but powerless. Reeling from seeing through so many eyes, Christ dancing in ten thousand places, scarred in limb, yet lovely...

As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ

Monday, October 15, 2018

All who hunger

Interior of Mission San Miguel
On Friday I drove the 163 miles from San Jose Airport to my dad's house outside San Miguel.  The road is achingly familiar, Math Man and I drove it so many time when we were out here on sabbatical 20 years ago. I go past the stand of eucalyptus trees near Gilroy that meant we were finally free of the Bay Area traffic. The old train siding north of Gonzalez, now collapsing. The prison in Soledad, lit up on the night drives and the signs warning drivers not to pick up hitchhikers in that area.  And Salinas, the half way point where we would stop on Sunday drives back up to the Bay Area — the two kids asleep in the back of the car — and get a chocolate milkshake to share.

I stopped at "our" In-N-Out Burger in Salinas on the way down and ate outside on the concrete tables, drinking in the sun that has been so scarce in Philly for the last weeks.  Inside were couples and families and CalTrans workers and EMTs.  Outside, it was me and the homeless guys with their black garbage bags by their sides.  I'd seen them walking along the farm access roads next to 101, backs bent, garbage bags over their shoulders, dust puffing beneath their feet. I was touched by the number of people who  stopped by the tables to ask these guys if they needed anything, if they needed a meal. No one was going hungry in this moment, which warmed me more than the sun.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Hard teachings

I read a column this week in a local Catholic paper about the need for the Church to return to the Gospel - but that then focussed entirely on issues of human sexuality, something that I argue is not the moral core of the Gospel.  These teachings should be "black and white," no nuance, says the author. But the moral core of the Gospel is direct, it is black and white, it's just not focussed solely on these issues: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul and your mind. And your neighbor as yourself. Whatever you do for another in need, you do unto me. 

The author notes that young people feel that the Church has nothing to offer them, and that if only we offered clarity they would come. I think they might, but I think the clarity they desire is focussed outward, onto what we have been missioned to do. Who are we to be for the world? How can we do the hard work of loving our neighbor in a culture that considers human dignity to be a luxury?  These questions take us far beyond the issues of human sexuality.

The Sunday readings might seem as if they lend themselves to black and white and "hard teachings," but in a reflection for Give Us This Day a few years ago I wondered if we had missed the hardest teaching of all.  That perhaps God's interest in marriage and fidelity and human love isn't primarily about individual needs and wants or marriage and divorce law, but is pushing for something far deeper. Something that applies to all of us, married or not, divorced or not.  It makes me wonder if young people sense our superficiality when we focus only on the "black and white."

I wrote this:
“Are you trying to tell me that my husband is dead?” I asked the surgeon. “Yes.” In that harrowing moment of my first marriage’s dissolution, I  finally grasped in my bones the reality of these words:  they are no longer two but one flesh. Half of me had been torn off, and what remained was pouring out onto the floor in a pool of tears. 
It is tempting to hear these readings from Genesis and Mark as mere marriage instruction, demanding husbands and wives to cleave to each other no matter the cost. I see in them instead potent images of what it feels like to be one body, not just in marriage but as the People of God: you are bone of my bone, flesh of my  flesh. We proclaim in the Communion Antiphon for this Sunday that we are one body (1 Cor 10:17). But do we feel in our bones that we are one flesh, mingled with Christ in our communion, as the water and wine mingle in the cup we share? One. Inseparable. 
These readings point us to realities beyond marriage, challenging us to deepen our  fidelity to one another and to Christ as members of his One Body.  This indeed is a hard teaching for all of us, not just those struggling with marriage. Are we torn open by the sufferings of our brothers and sisters? Do we weep for each other as we would weep for a beloved spouse? We are no longer two, but one flesh. One Body. Inseparable. Christ.