Surviving The Touch of God
(Written for The Value of Sparrows, August 31, 2012)
This is a story that I thought I would never tell. Here or elsewhere. Or, perhaps it’s that I would never tell it again.
Because this is about both an experience, a miracle, and its story. And how those two things created a fault line in my life from which I may not yet even have recovered.
Does one ever recover from having one’s life shattered, I wonder?
It began many, many years ago. I was in graduate school, studying Christian education at seminary. I had two small children, and a husband whose behavior was beginning to become erratic on a regular basis.
I’ve been “told” recently that there is another way to describe my strength.
I’ve discovered that I have a hard heart.
Hard, at least in some ways. Not toward my precious children. Not even toward my breaking husband. And not toward life on this Earthly plane.
But over my lifetime I have hardened my heart to my Way. To my work with God.
But is that not to be expected? We are taught early on to turn our cheek, give our coat, stand strong and silent in the fiercest of winds. How else are we supposed to grow in our quietness, in our competence, than strong, than clenched, than fierce?
In dealing with God and his wisdom, what else can we do with our hearts than to make them capable of endurance? When we learn to give everything we are to God, do we not also include our fragility? Our weakness? Our tenderness?
Because we still have all those qualities to give abundantly to those around us. There is always so much room for the things we do that cause us to feel guilty, so much room in our hearts to say, we’re sorry, please forgive us.
But with God, it’s get up off your knees, and do it again until you get it right. Until you understand what it is I’m teaching you. Until your knees bleed, and getting up gets slower and harder each time.
So I studied at graduate school. All the while receiving powerful, firework visions. Crowding in on my attempts to memorize the Hebrew alphabet while watching my daughter smash into her soccer opponents before taking my son to his cello lesson before making dinner and reading children’s books and shampooing hair and reading what Augustine had to say about his life while doing my best to keep my husband from erupting yet again.
No matter how much there was to do, there was always God. Always learning. Straining to keep a focus on the lessons I was to work on that day.
Until the day came when God said, now you will study how a miracle works.
It was just part of another day. Another song that came with yet another one of my steps as I walked along. So I didn’t really take the time to lift my head and really listen.
You are going to learn about miracles.
All I did was whisper, fine. Miracles. Alef, bet, gimel. Another chicken recipe. Francis de Sales, divine thoughts, divine heart. Return library books.
And then, with some little attention and breathlessness on my part, my hand touched her hand.
And the miracle occurred.
I knew it.
And soon everyone in the seminary community knew it. Like a brushfire in the middle of summer.
When I turned corners, bundles of people would stop talking and stare. Tears moistened cheeks. Heads turned away, then back. Like I was a creature never seen before.
Like I was not the person they knew.
This has nothing to do with me, I wanted to scream. I’m just the student here. I’m just the nobody.
It’s God you want to gawk at. It’s God you want to whisper about.
I’m just the nobody, the nothing who got between God and her.
Leave me alone.
And no matter how much I was needed in my life, the tremors began. And I began to ache in ways that I had never ached before.
It was as though I had been through a serious car accident, except there were no doctors to peruse my wounding, no one to hold my hand and promise me that I would get better and be back on my feet in no time.
No one to even see the cracks that were widening within me.
And so I kept living.
And I left seminary.
Years went by, but the disorientation and distress from this incident was still with me. My circumstances changed, and I found myself in a new church. God was with me there, of course, and I was instructed to “report” to the two priests. I was to get help with my “problem.”
Wow. Help. Imagine that.
Was that a surge of tenderness I felt?
I shared my story of the incident, the miraculous healing, with the priest. I trusted him. I trusted God.
And he began his screaming. His face grew redder and redder. His words became increasingly abusive.
You are what is wrong with this church. We don’t want you here.
He stood behind his desk.
He kept the full appointment. Screaming the whole time.
This was on a Saturday.
The following day, a Sunday, as I stood in the receiving line, as I came to this priest and stretched out my hand, he spun on his heel and turned his back to me. After I had passed him by, he spun back around to receive the person behind me in line.
I guess he really meant it when he said that we don’t want you here.
So I stayed right here.
My son was an acolyte. My daughter sang in the morning choir. My son sang in the evening choir.
So I kept attending. I watched my children grow in beauty and grace.
But my disorientation, my destruction, was complete.
For the first time in my life I no longer felt at home in a church. For the first time in my life, I felt alone.
I was lost. I was in complete exile. I was nowhere.
A stranger on no one’s shore.
And still I had to endure the growing crisis in my marriage, and keep my children going, keep their heads up.
But I no longer had a harbor. I no longer had a place in the world where I could rest my soul and be restored.
I had to face my greatest challenge with a distressed and alienated soul.
And now I am told that I have a heart of stone.
Yes, well. . . .
Make my heart to grow
as great as thine
so through my hurt
your love may shine
my love be yours,
your love be mine.