A NOTE REVISITED


Dear Jesus,

I was in the process of cleaning out some files when I came upon a copy of a letter I wrote to you almost ten years ago.  Strange, isn’t it, how little changes in that length of time.  Rereading what I wrote then surfaced the same emotions.  The images seem as fresh and vivid, too.  I hope I do not try your patience if I send you a copy of that note with an after-word attached.  Here is what I wrote to you in October of 2001:

Dear Jesus,

It’s hard for me to write to you when I am angry.  Oh, it’s not that I am angry with you, but I guess I am angry because of you.  You see, if it weren’t for you there are a lot of things weighing on me that wouldn’t bother me at all.  If I weren’t trying to be your disciple and taking your Gospel call seriously, I would be freer, wouldn’t I?  But instead I can’t ignore what I would rather leave at my doorpost.  All of it is choking me.

When I read the newspapers of watch the evening news, terrible images assault me.  People are starving to death and living in abject misery while they wait for the expected machines of war to cross their borders and pierce their skies.

I saw the picture of a woman in Rwanda.  As she stood in front of skulls neatly stacked on a long earthen shelf, she stared out at me with what I thought was reproach in her eyes.  Among the piles of skulls might be those of her husband and daughter, both killed in the attempted genocide that had raged in her land a few years ago.  She seeks justice.  Am I supposed to share in the guilt of the killers or in the pain of her loss?

A gaunt father shoulders his emaciated child.  Their eyes are glazed.  They have names so that now I can more readily identify with them as people and not dismiss them as mere symbols.

Now the unthinkable has happened in our land.  New icons of the ravages of war assault me.  How many times must I see planes slamming into towers and erupting in fireballs, or see stately buildings crumble into shards of mangled steel and rubble?

Body bags on stretchers.  Men and women, spent, exhausted, weeping into their hands or onto shoulders of their comrades.  Funerals and funerals and funerals.  And flags, once a symbol of invincibility and supposed divine favor wave from just about every conceivable appendage.  “I feel their pain,” has become a trite cliché.  But I think I do and am supposed to in empathy and compassion.

But what am I to do with the emptiness in my gut?  In a moment assumptions have been shattered.  In the wreckage lie the traces of what used to be security.  People are losing their jobs.  Retirement funds have evaporated.  The newly rich have become the newly impoverished.  Overnight.  In a moment.  Without warning their wealth is gone.

You have challenged me to recognize your face in those who suffer.  Their pain continues your passion.  And if I hear you, I cannot keep them at a distance or leave them at my doorpost.

What do you want me to do?  How am I supposed to bear all this and go on?  Yesterday I recognized in a moment of insight that I was wandering aimlessly through my day.  I was with people but not present to them.  Words passed between us but without meaning.  Afterward I couldn’t remember what we had been talking about.

Then I realized I resented the intrusions on my time, the interruptions to my musings.  In exasperation I prayed to be left alone so that I could taste my own misery and savor it.

I found myself unable to be still.  Sitting at my desk I could see the piles of paper but could not think how to organize them.  I stared at my calendar, aching because I could not think how I would make it from one hour to the next.  Food bored me.  All I wanted to do was sleep.  But I was afraid to sleep.  Sleep wouldn’t come without terrible images assaulting me and jarring me awake.

Last night I sat in the darkness and listened to the chiming of the quarter hours and the ticking of the clock.  I could see in the dim light from the full moon the pendulum swinging back and forth, back and forth, relentlessly.  I put my hands to my cheeks and felt them wet with my tears.  And all I could pray was, “Oh God.  Oh God.  Oh God.”

Will there be an answer?

I wrote that letter to you nearly 10 years ago as I said.  From this perspective I realize that part of what I was dealing with at that time was exhaustion.  I was precariously near collapse.  There is no need to go into all of the “stuff” that was weighing me down, nor more own foolishness in working nearly sixteen-hour days six and a half days of the week.  As you know, I have let go of a lot of the stuff, grieved the losses and retired from all the responsibilities.  Healing has happened, thank God.  And I have found the grace to forgive.

So, I come back to some of the images in that old letter.  Rwanda has moved on from the days of the genocide attempt that ended over 800,000 lives as the Hutus lay siege to the Tutsis.  Both tribes are predominantly Catholic.  That fact gave added horror to the slaughters that took place when sanctuary was violated and those Tutsis hiding inside church and on parish grounds were mowed down.  That war has subsided.  But the political struggles still go on all over Africa.  The images that are particularly haunting today are of the thousands in northern Kenya emigrated from Somalia now seek relief for their starving children and for themselves.  Again those haunted eyes stare out at the viewer.

The plight of the Tutsis was ignored as their Belgian protectors abandoned them.  You must be pleased by the worldwide response to the Somalis.  Not only are food and funds pouring into their cause, but also medical personnel work in the primitive camps seeking to bring healing and relief.  That gives evidence that many people do recognize that we are one family and bear responsibility for one another.  Some are motivated when they hear you saying, “I was hungry and you fed me, naked and you clothed me.”  The Spirit is moving.

As we commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the 9/11 disasters, there are some who warn of the potential for further acts of terror.  But others will gather as the shrine to the thousands whose lives were taken is dedicated.  The stories of those heroes whose names are etched around the memorial will be told to inspire generations to come.  They will stand in testimony to the power of the human spirit and the strength that comes from loving.  The horrific images of planes crashing into the Twin Towers and into the Pentagon, and the story of those heroes wresting control of the plane from the hijackers and crashing the plane in an open field to save countless other lives are indelible in the collective consciousness.  And hope is rekindled.

Then years ago, I wrote you and asked, “Will there be an answer?”  While questions remain, there have been answers, too.  I believe that as time continues and we ponder and pray over world events, more answers will emerge and we will respond in faith, in hope, and with love.  Please, continue to pour forth your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.

Sincerely,

Didymus             

 

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