It is 3:30 a.m.. I am outside. Steady, moderate wind blows from the west. The air is dry. After two days of badly needed rain the blue jeans I washed yesterday and that hang on our porch are still soaking. But today promises dry. Light extends across the northern horizon except in one isolated spot where rain is falling on the hills twenty miles away. It always rains up there. I will go back in shortly and read a Psalm. And I am at peace here like at no other time and no other place in my life. The air has the quality of looking through a clear mountain stream…which I suppose in actual fact, it is.
For some reason I am reminded of Joe. He started attending the church I served twenty years ago at the behest of his wife. An engineer at a major military contractor. He was clear that loving your enemies had no place in his life; development of weapons guidance systems did. Punitive in how he reacted to others who disagreed with him. I used my interaction with him as a case study in my supervised training in psychotherapy and spirituality. I learned that his desire to punish and judge was an indication of his saddism.
But more than challenging me to love those who were most different than I, he also taught me about my own take on money – mammon, stuff – awakening my intuition regarding this with great finality.
When it came to financial dependency I had for decades felt caught. I had a family. I needed to pay my bills. But with what, and how much, and what did I really need and truly?
On my first Sunday at that church there were seventeen in attendance. My salary was $2,000 a year. I accepted it as I thought to struggle with them. And it was a struggle beyond belief. How do you raise a family of five on $2,000 a year? You don’t. None of this bothered any of the parishioners. But after a year there were nearly a hundred people in church on any given Sunday. This I counted as a great blessing to the church itself. My salary was raised. But still, how do you raise a family on $8,000? You don’t. Still, I was grateful. Yet we could not pay our basic bills. Again, none of this bothered anyone in the church. We started to slide into what would become horrendous debt. I worked a minimum of 60 hours a week there thinking all the time that more work would reduce our debt. Hard labour. It didn’t. All parishioners were overly pleased with everything.
And then late one night while I worked overtime at my office car lights showed up in the parking lot. Joe knocked on my office door in tears. He sat and explained through sobs how he had bought a second home the week before at a resort and now was not sure how he was going to pay for the mortgages on both his luxury home in town as well as on this new cottage. He said, I need pastoral support. I gave it to him. It was my job. His emotions moved my emotions. But I count that experience as pivotal in getting me to where I am now. Already deeply doubtful of wealth’s relationship with Christian faith that evening with him finally and decisively broke me loose from another aspect of my own compromised cultural moorings.
In a very real way it was a gift. For four years in that place we simply struggled to survive amidst opulence. Living among people who thought that it was their right to wealth and power and prestige I learned that I had no such rights, descending even deeper as a follower of Christ’s into Jesus’ poverty and powerlessness and anonymity. My increasing dependency on God alone came to offset any hope in the enculturated lifestyles of my parishioners. I increasingly spent time with the poor and found the greatest joy serving them.
And this morning standing in the half-light of this northern farm where the berries are starting to hang heavy with this last rain (through no work of my own), and where we seek to give everything away (through the hands of others), and where nothing is mine (as if anything could ever be), I fully thank God for that painful experience, and for Joe. His hatred of others unlike himself, his greed, his self-serving, his addictions to everything base in himself that came out over the years only served as a foil for my own deeper dying to myself, for my descent into nothingness is by no means finished here either.
Today we celebrated the Sacred Heart of Jesus at Mass. The long-suffering compassion of God. We are still sought. But with a caveat. We are all still sought. Both myself and Joe alike. All we like sheep have gone astray, and still do. Allow no quarter to consider otherwise. I will light two candles at church in a few hours, one for each of us. It’s a healing act in so many respects and no small action.
Standing outside this glorious morning it is once again the first day of creation. I accept it as a dream. I have no idea of how I got here, except that looking back I see an often painful path lain out behind me. Nor do I have any clearer notion of where I am going now than I did on that evening twenty years ago. Nor does that matter. One step at a time. Standing in this clear, crystalline stream all I know is that I am found by God.