My wife has recently had some significant surgery and is now resting at home, making good progress, and receiving visitors. She is still struggling with painful discomfort and I am nursing, as well as I can (which is not very well at all, I suspect). This week (the second of her convalescence) the number of visitors rose to a visit a day, and each visitor is a joyful event because there is love. As the week draws to close, the prayers that flow from this love are a bit overwhelming.
Each visitor is one who knows well the struggle that we’ve been through, and which still haunts us; their journey with us is a feature of the forgiveness I receive daily from all who are alongside me. Whenever we speak of forgiveness, we need to turn it into a verb. To forgive is not an abstract, isolated, academic experience. It is a physical, felt response. Forgiveness faces both ways in a relationship and those who visit us are part of this.
I speak to God.
Such beautiful love from these who could so easily have shunned and expelled. I keep thinking, “a lesser priest would have taken to the hills.” Such blunt and crass cruelty. So, I stay, and we have deep friendships. But I struggle on Sundays not to be able to be part of them. Lord, you know how much I struggle on Sundays. They reminded me of the anchor that holds me back. Everything I see and feel every day is tinged with sadness at the anchor. My frustration is palpable and it causes me such grief.
But am I held back from doing your work? No. Of course not. It’s just that you are calling me from the other side of the prison wall and even though I know you will wait for me, the pain at not being able to follow your call is a heavy load. Frustration is often judged a sin. It comes with pride and impatience. So many say, “wait for Lord, ” and I do. I can do no other, but the waiting is made the worse because you prowl the wilderness, sorrowful at my stupidity. My spirit is quenched for the present time. When, O Lord, will it rekindle?
Yes, yes, yes, I know… “it’s not gone out,” they say. Within me remains your light and your love. I do feel it, you know that. But it hurts so. How can it be a good thing tha it hurts so? I feel sorrowful that I have made you sad, and I prowl my side of the fence. I am behind the glass, pawing at the barrier. You know and love me as a woman waits for her man at the prison gate after visiting time. Each Sunday, You come to me and we kiss across the glass, speak through the telephone, agonise, argue, and then make up, all with out touch. Just through the expressions of your beautiful face.
It is my fault. But the sentence is so harsh. For what is the sentence imposed? It doesn’t feel as though it comes from you, but from those who stand in judgement, ostensibly on your behalf. They say, be gone for a while. Sit and pray in your cell. Do not interfere with the thought and prayers of those who love you and who forgive you.
That is of no consequence to those who hold me in bondage. They sit in silent judgement, answering no questions, just pronouncing through prejudice.
“Adultery?” they say. “Yes,” I confirm.
It was horrible, stupid, hurtful and wrong. And now I need to think about what I have done. I need to rebuild the trust I have broken, and the promises I have failed to keep. I need to take time in prayer and reflection, Lord. You know that. And they know that. But they do not step beyond, merely hiding in the dark cloisters of a secret world that has not noticed the progress we all make towards you: in forgiveness, mercy, love and understanding. Those who struggle to follow you most are the ones who find their hearts open wide to your wisdom.
The cloistered ones have found the power to ignore your people and to step forth unbowed into the light to judge me. I have broken vows, and I have abused their trust in me. I know it. But how does reconciliation work, Lord? Is it through banishment? Have we forgotten that you became the scapegoat for us all, and in your dying were able to share with us the very pain we perpetrate in our wicked stupidity, my wicked stupidity?
Scapegoats are sent out to carry the burdens of all, and assumed to die in loneliness. Have we not passed on from such wild judgements? Have we not grown in your life and mercy? No, it seems not, Lord. It seems that the grace and mercy is subjugated beneath a yoke of prosecution and prohibition.
And so, I wander the prison yard, prowl the high walls, knowing you are there but beaten back and subjugated by a system that sees nothing past the old style of stupid sin. They take no heed of what we mean today by our social and personal interactions. I have broken the trust of those around me, and they have found in their deep and loving hearts the grace you placed there. They visit and give, they pray and hope. They love and do not judge.
But those Pharisees who sit in judgement find no such opportunity and no such mercy. They fear the backlash, and they fear the reputation, not of Christians, but of The Church. Is this how you expect us to care for your church? By banishing and excluding those who stumble and fall? The scandal of my stumble is made all the worse to those who the Pharisees wish to prove that he church is relevant. Relevant. We all want that. Relevant: meaningful in the moment, a place of sanctuary in loss and fear, not a place that closes its doors to the fallen.
You, Lord, will wait, I know. But how long, Lord? How long?