A couple of years ago, Melanie published her first book, a year-long daily devotional. She wrote most of it but also drew on poetry from her brother and some of my blog essays to fill out some of the daily meditations. We read from her book each morning and, frequently, reading our own words coming back to us in our present circumstance takes our breath away. Recent examples follow.
But I begin this report by directing your attention to a short online video report from Fr. Robert Barron on his recent hospital stay. I had watched this on Sunday evening. During the first five minutes I laughed in sympathy as he described some of the horrors I had become familiar with in my own recent visits to what Fr. Barron calls “Hospitalland.”
During the last five minutes I was mostly just horrified, not wanting to have to deal with one of the difficult conclusions he had reached during his stay (“the divinization of passivity,” when God empties you out). To make it worse, he cited St. John of the Cross! I had a bad night looking for a way to reject what I’d heard. I could not.
Monday morning, I broke down into tears as I read out loud that day’s entry from Melanie’s book.
Melanie and I read the account of Jesus meeting the Syrophoenician Woman looking for help for her demon-tormented daughter (Matthew 15:21-28). This is the woman whom Jesus rebuffs, saying he has not been sent to her people but to the house of Israel.
Since most of the time Jesus is reported as patiently letting himself be stopped by people who need his help, this incident seems a bit jarring. But today I heard it with a different point of view in mind.
I’ve been thinking about the concept of discipleship. A bit part of that process, it seems to me, involves the mentor telling the student, “You’re not doing it right. It’s this way… Do it this way…” It is the lesson that says, “If you are going to call Jesus your Lord and follow him, then you cannot be calling the shots or setting the directions for your life anymore.”
This desperate woman thought she had a simple request just like all the others who called out to the Lord for help. But Jesus is not living his life being moved by the judgements and assumptions and directions from the people he meets. They are not in charge and he always makes that clear.
Fortunately, this woman got the point and instantly agreed with Jesus. He granted her request. But only after the basic ground rules were clear. It’s called “making disciples.”
It was not until I got to the end that I saw Melanie had added my own initials to the final line. “I wrote this!” I gasped out. It was something I had written for my now-discontinued church blog in the summer of 2013. The words fell down on me that morning like bricks.
The next day Melanie had also used one of my meditations originally posted that same summer.
The Bible is inherently obscure for us; we have to work reasonably hard to extract meaning from the text… We can expect some measure of difficulty in reading the Scriptures and need not be discouraged by it. The benefits of spending time with the Bible far outweigh the labors of coming to grips with its foreignness.
Frankly, I don’t recall hearing anyone state that the Bible “is inherently obscure” before. But there it is in Michael Casey’s book, Sacred Reading (Ligouri, 1995). He doesn’t just have reading the Bible in mind. The spiritual disciplines of the Christian life generally call for some generous investments of time and effort.
The first requirement is patience. In fact, we have to slow down our intellectual metabolism and not expect to find quick and easy solutions to all life’s problems. It is precisely this damping down of superficial excitement that creates the environment in which we are able to perceive spiritual things more intensely…
In an era of hyper-stimulation it can be difficult for people to realize that enlightenment comes not by increasing the level of excitement, but by moving more deeply into calm. There is a kind of monotony that is not boredom but paves the way for a more profound experience… We have to move to a level that is different from the one on which we operate in everyday life.
I wanted to slap myself for the impudent final line I had written to the piece.
And, yes, you might want to slow down and read that again.
When I want your advice, I’ll give it to you, I found myself grumbling. But I was sure it was the Holy Spirit who wanted to say that to me.
After my rehab therapy session on Monday, Melanie and I had done something for the first time since I had the stroke. We visited someone else who was dealing with a health crisis. In the hospital. I had only agreed after Melanie suggested it three times. I realized I needed to recognize God might be prompting the idea. I had thought several times that my own recovery experience, still unfolding, might be intended to better prepare me to reach out to others suffering sickness and brokenness. Melanie had already been exchanging notes with our friend’s wife and we already could guess at some of the emotional and spiritual battles she was facing in caring for her husband.
At rehab that day the therapist had me practicing walking without the walker. But it was obvious I was not ready to go anywhere on my own yet without mechanical help. So at the hospital Melanie got me into a wheelchair and then moved me to the elevator.
When we got to the hospital room the first thing John did was apologize that he hadn’t been able to visit me yet. I couldn’t say much at all.
We must not expect to find quick and easy solutions to all life’s problems. We have to move to a level that is different from the one on which we operate in everyday life. That only happens if we are ready to listen for directions, for His Voice.