My favorite spot at the Well of Mercy is a little side porch off the prayer chapel. Not because it has an amazing view – it really doesn’t. Well, not unless you happen to be sitting here at sunrise; it faces due east (clearly intentional). But the rest of the day, it’s simply a small porch nestled in the woods. The creek isn’t even nearby.
I love it because it’s private. No one ever walks past. And the prayer shawls are here, in the chapel. I love wearing one while I sit/write/commune. I wonder about the person who made it, praying all the while for the souls it would one day embrace. I am one of those souls. Last time I was here (my first visit), I told myself I’d learn to make them myself. That hasn’t happened. Then again, I still don’t know how to play the guitar either. My guess is the guitar is far more likely, so I’ll stick to appreciating the work of other prayer-shawl-makers.
It’s my second visit to The Well, and I’m staying in the same room. I didn’t request it, it just worked out that way. I flipped through the guest book to find my entry, and was surprised to learn that I’m here during the exact same week. My entry was made on March 12, 2011. Today is March 15.
(I wonder what it is about this time of year that makes the urge to “go” so strong that I can ignore it no longer?)
Has it only been a year? So much has happened - so much has changed. I remember that visit, vividly. I remember my core question:
“Am I wandering from the faith, as some caution? Is my hope heresy at worst, something to be “kept private” at best? What is faith, without hope, anyway?”
And I remember the answer: LOVE.
“You will know Me as you live-walk-breathe LOVE for others. No other way. Get out of your head, and walk. Yes, the Bible is important, but you have that base well covered. Let it nourish you, but the time for walking has come. Stop fussing over your faith and your hope – leave those worries here. Go. Walk. Love. Just love.”
I haven’t forgotten. But I had a very naive idea of what “just love” would mean. For one thing, it was foolhardy to dare insert the word “just” as a prefix for love. As if love is a simple thing. It’s not.
These aren’t questions whose answers start with “just…”. Love can be divisive, not because you choose it to be, but because others get pretty bent out of shape when you love their enemies. No. The word “just” has no place in that phrase.
In 12 months, much has changed. The earth has made a full pass around the sun. We’ve seen seasons come and go – both in nature, in our family, and – to be sure – in my heart.
By October, the path of love was leaving me weary. In fact, I found myself coming to God often over something that greatly troubled me. I’d lost my tears. Women regularly come to me with burdens to share, stories to tell – I pray with them, and my heart swells with compassion. But to my great frustration, I had no tears. It’s simply not right to have a person cry on your shoulder while your own eyes remain dry. What was wrong with me? Had too much head-work numbed my heart? Was I turning cold? I’d lost the ability to cry. This troubled me greatly. I wanted to feel again.
I hadn’t realized, till I came here – until last night, actually – how recent events have been an answer to that prayer. See, for the past two months, I’ve had the opposite problem. Since January 24, it’s been hard for me to not cry. Driving down the road, walking the aisle at Trader Joe’s, kneeling at the communion rail – the need to stifle sudden sobs overtakes me often, and without warning.
It’s to the point that I’ve been concerned about myself. I mean, in all honesty, he was just my sons’ principal, after all. Yes, a friend too, but others knew him far longer and far better than I did. I really should be over this by now – at least a bit! What on earth is wrong with me?
It happened again last night. I sat in the prayer chapel that sits directly behind me, now. Sister Donna lit candles, spoke gentle words, and played music. The lyrics were simple: “I am with you always”. But I didn’t enjoy them. Tears poured down my hot cheeks. I didn’t bother to wipe them away. I stared hard at a candle with a stone cold expression.
And I talked to God.
"With us always…
Where! Were! You!?
He loved You!
Where were You?
When his despair took him from us?
When it killed him?
When it killed him?
People tell me You're an on-time God.
Well, guess what.
You were late."
Well, guess what.
You were late."
I don’t always hear back, but sometimes I do. Okay, often I do. Think me delusional, I don’t mind. It’s true.I hear back.
“What happened, happened.Barry is with me and he is whole.His story is his and mine – not yours.It was going to happen whether you were a part of it or not.But feel your cheeks.What did you ask Me for?Feel your heart.Is it numb?Do you not grieve? Are you not moved with compassion as I was?This is my gift.Knowing Barry, loving him as you did – that has been my gift to you. What happened, happened to him, not you. But you – you could sit here weeping two months later, or you could have heard about it on the news and forgotten it two seconds later.I have given you a great gift.”
As a faint ray of understanding pierced through my still confused mind, I managed to bend down and pick a tissue from the box at my feet. I wiped my nose. I softened my gaze. And I replied,
“Thank You. Thank You for Barry. Thank You for not sparing me this. Thank You for my tears. Thank You for all he taught me about people. Thank You. Never let me turn cold. Never.”
So... this year’s question:
So far, the answer:
With tears ... with tears.