The words to MercyMe’s “The Hurt and the Healer” keep coming to mind where it says, “Healing doesn’t come from the explained” but I find myself disagreeing with them.All through Mass I struggled and struggled and questioned and struggled some more though it was not a great environment to have this battle with God – in the sense that it was in the middle of our public worship. But in the end I did beg God for some understanding. Just some small glimmer of an answer from Him. What would be so wrong with that? And as I looked up at the Cross it came to me like Jesus was saying: Yes, I could have healed Bernadette but I’m lonely up here and I’m inviting you to keep Me company. Not exactly the answer I was looking for but how could I argue with it. I admit, if Jesus had healed Bernadette I would not be keeping Him company in His suffering, I’d be very busy praising His powers and telling everyone. And that might not have been a bad thing either, but that is obviously not where He was asking me to be.
In the quiet of the late evening I got another answer of a different nature. I opened “He & I” to a random page and it was October 21st 1948 . Gabrielle had written: “The priest who had directed me for part of my life had just died and I felt the touch of his blessing still.” to which Jesus responded: “Believe that in Me My children remain united together. Members of one Body have only one heartbeat. There are spiritual heritages held out across the walls of the tomb, and everything comes through Me for the glory of the Father…….. It is because they all belong to the same family and the same home that this oneness between the living and the dead is so great. The home is My Father’s and the same Blood – Mine – flows in all the children. . . . . . Stay very close to your departed ones. They are close to all of you. Increase your trust.”
Two answers to ponder in the depths of my heart as the storm ranges on, just like the answers found in John Paul’s letter “On the Christian meaning of Human Suffering”. They certainly don’t take the pain away, but they’re like sticks of wood to hang on to so I don’t drown. They keep me afloat for a while. And the more sticks God gives me, some day they might make a raft so I can endure the rest of the storm without always the fear of drowning.
Yesterday’s experience with wresting with God was in itself a confirmation. Last week after sharing with my spiritual director my struggles and not sure if it was really right to argue or wrestle with God she directed me to an entry in her “Manna Gathering” book entitled “And in this corner”. She gave me permission to include the entire entry here so I’m going to because I just can’t do it justice to quote a few lines and try to explain the rest. It was like God was reassuring me that it is okay to wrestle with Him, in fact He wants me to. I don’t think I would have been open to His answers yesterday if I hadn’t and I would have missed His blessings.
And In This Corner…. by Jean Allen . . . . pg. 651 – 655
Luke 18: 1-8
Jesus is encouraging his followers to pray always and not to lose heart and he tells them the parable of the widow who kept coming to an unjust judge to ask for justice against her opponent. The judge finally gives the widow justice so she will stop coming and bothering him. Jesus asks if an unjust judge responds to continual petition, will not God grant justice to those who ask? The Jesus queries as to whether he will find faith on earth when he returns.
A few years ago, Fr.William Hann, who is, at this writing, pastor of St. Joseph the Worker in Victoria, spoke about Habakkuk crying out to God and challenging God because God just didn’t seem to be listening to his pleas and his prayers. Fr. Hann, who had been going through some extremely difficult and painful circumstances, had this to say:
“The beauty of the prophet Habakkuk is that he dares to give voice to his fear and frustration and that he dares to put it on God’s desk. I wonder sometimes whether we dare to be as honest with God as that prophet is. The suggestion is often made that you don’t speak to God that way.
I would like to suggest that in a life of faith there is room for speaking to God in the way Habakkuk does. God can handle our anger and our emotional outbursts when we must come to terms with the shattering of our dreams or betrayal in any of its ugly forms.
These past months I know I have cried out to God and asked him for answers, for an explanation, to ask him for something to hold on to, for fear that I might otherwise go under.” (Quoted with permission.)
When I heard that homily, I thanked God for a priest who’s not only transparent about his own struggles but is also one who knows the immense value of wrestling with God.
This week’s gospel is about praying without ceasing but it is also about spiritual honesty. In the lectionary’s translation of this gospel passage, the judge says, “I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” (NRSV) An alternate translation to that is, “…so that she will not slap me in the face.” That widow must have been displaying a huge amount of anger and frustration if the judge was afraid of being slapped in the face!
We can be too nice in our prayers – a niceness that blocks us from really coming face to face with the Living God and discovering that he loves it when we wrestle with him in complete naked honesty. Indeed, this pounding on God’s door is absolutely necessary for our spiritual growth. God is not fooled by our nice safe prayers – but we are blinded by them.
Remember the story of Jacob where Jacob wrestled with God in the form of an angel in the desert? He wrestled through the night and he wouldn’t let go until God blessed him. God not only blessed Jacob but he gave him a new Name: Israel. Before the wrestling match, Jacob would not have been ready to hear his true Name. Jacob was too full of himself. I’m not saying he was an arrogant or egotistical man. He may have been, I don’t know, but when I say ‘full of himself’ I mean that even though he was afraid and in danger, he was still depending on his own thinking, ability, might and power to handle his circumstances. During the wrestling match, God dislocated Jacob’s hip but then he blessed and gave him a new Name, one that expressed everything God was calling him to be.
Scripture is full of examples of holy men and women who have dared to speak their minds to God, to desperately ask him why things are the way they are, to demand justice or a change in plan. This has probably confused more than a few Christians down through the ages who have wondered how God could have a plan and then change it just because some ordinary person asked him to. This can bring on an uncomfortable insecurity about the constancy of God’s plans. If we can pray and challenge God’s plan and his ways and then he actually listens to us, is that not giving us too much power? Are we not called to just humbly say, “Thy will be done,” and then meekly shoulder the burden of whatever cross we’ve been given? If we pray, ask for something that’s bad for us, and God gives in, isn’t that making us into spoiled brats? Isn’t it dangerous to question God’s directions and plans?
These questions are all based on the idea that God is just like us only he’s the boss. He’s the Dictator, a benevolent one but a dictator none-the-less, and wrestling with a dictator has never been perceived as a smart idea. Lightening bolts and punishment may be involved. Better to just give in immediately rather than chance offending God. Don’t misunderstand me. Saying, “Thy will be done,” is a beautiful prayer, but please note that Jesus prayed that prayer of exquisite submission after struggling mightily with his Father, after asking that the cup be taken away and aftersweating blood. Something dynamic and intimate happened between him and the Father that we are not privy to but, whatever it was, it took Jesus to the next level of a love revelation that brought him the strength of grace he required, a renewed vision of what was at stake and the courage to do what needed to be done to bring us all home. Thank God he wrestled and was not the least bit concerned that he would offend his Father.
Listen. If you ever seem to change God’s mind about anything it’s because that was his desire in the first place and he wanted you to engage in the only kind of relationship dialog that could ever change the mind of anyone: Questions. Honesty to the point of being utterly naked. Spilling the guts. Laying it all out on the floor until there is nothing left to hide. Refusing to walk away until there’s resolution or revolution. Not being silent just because you’re afraid of being wrong or in case the other will get mad at you. Waiting and listening without fear.
It’s messy all right. The blood and guts all over the floor will be all yours but the difference between doing this with God as opposed to doing it with another person is that God gently and lovingly cleanses the blood and guts and puts them all back in right order and then he heals the wounds and gives you anew Name and a new way of walking.
Don’t just be O.K. with asking God nicely for things or answers. Get right in there and wrestle with him. Challenge him. Question him. Honestly lay out your fears and frustrations. It’s the only way to learn who he really is because if you are like the insistent widow and you keep at it, he will respond by revealing his nature and showing you aspects of himself you never suspected were there. He reveals himself to those who want to know him so badly that they’re willing to struggle through the night for that ultimate blessing. He wants us to wrestle through the darkness with desire, because that’s how his real face becomes planted deeply in our hearts. I cannot tell you how many people pray without looking God in the face because they are so convinced that what they will see in his face are disassociation, condemnation, disappointment and sadness. What are actually there are connectedness, joyful love and fierce desire. No one can desire God as much as he desires us.
There have no doubt been times in your life when God has answered a prayer of yours after a not particularly challenging struggle. Think back on all the prayers he has quickly answered in your life – so many little prayers prayed, answered and forgotten. But the ones that really moved you forward in your spirit in a way you could never have done yourself were those prayers prayed through the night in great anguish, prayers where you cried out in distress or prayers that were prayed for so long that you thought God had forgotten you. These are the kind of prayers that transform us and bring us to a new understanding of who he is and who we are.
Don’t lose heart. Go ahead and wrestle with God, the same God that Jacob and Jesus wrestled with. Then get ready to be dislocated…