A recent Facebook post about "tone policing" summoned a powerful memory from my subconscious. The incident haunted me for hours. If I had any delusions of grandeur, they were swept away by the realization of my utter helplessness when faced with the challenge of suffering.
I had just finished presenting a workshop called "Taking Care of Each Other." I had confidently told people that nothing is beyond God's grace, and the way we live in community incarnates that message. We are blessed to be a blessing. A number of people told their stories. We finished with a Eucharist. I felt that a lot of healing had taken place.
As we were enjoying the traditional post-meeting coffee and dainties, I was approached by a man I had not seen before. Even before he opened his mouth, it was clear to me that he was a firestorm of rage. His eyes snapped with anger, he moved with the decisiveness of a man who would not be denied, and his body seemed to emanate a fiery energy field.
He made it clear that he was not part of our group, and did not wish to be. He had come to pick up his mother, that's all. But he was holding a sheet of paper with a page and a half of hand-written text, and he wanted me, a complete stranger, to read it.
It was a concise and direct account of his sexual abuse by church clergy. As I read it, m heart sank. I had no reason to doubt any of it. I had nothing to say. I was not responsible for what happened to him, but I was involved by virtue of my affiliation with the church.
I didn't say much. I told him that he was a courageous man to walk into a church after what happened to him, and that his anger was more than justified. He talked about what his life had been like. As the waves of his rage flowed over me, I wondered what I could possibly do to help. I probably tried to make the point that God was just as upset about this as he was.
In time, the man wound down sufficiently to concede that not all people in the Christian church are terminally evil. He admitted that he liked the nuns in elementary school because they were kind to him.
He began to walk away. "Sit down," I said without thinking. "Sit down and I will pray for you."
To my surprise, he stopped and came back. Perhaps I reminded him of one of those kind nuns. I laid hands on him and prayed fervently that he would get to know the real Jesus, not the false image the priests had burdened him with. That was all I had to give.
He seemed calmer when he left. Hopefully, this was one small step in his healing process. Instead of planting a bomb under the foundation of the church, he had walked in and told his story to one person. Despite what had happened to him, he found the faith to sit down and let a complete stranger pray for him. Somewhere under that avalanche of anger, there was hope.
The Gospel of John states that Light shines in the darkness, and darkness can never put it out. The Christmas story which we love to re-tell is a story of a baby born to an obscure couple in a violent, corrupt society under military occupation. The joyful song of the angels is quickly followed by a savage massacre of toddlers by Herod's soldiers.
The surviving baby grows up to become a man who refuses to be silenced, no matter what the cost. He alienates his family and his religious community, and soon faces torture and death at the hands of the Powers that Be. The story does not end there, because hatred and evil cannot overcome love any more than darkness can overcome light.
I have made a covenant with God to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving my neighbour as myself. I have no idea how to accomplish this mission, but I know Somebody who does. Love is God's final answer to everything. That's why we can't stop trying to usher in the Kingdom of God, even if we can see no reason to hope.