And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into Heaven. (The Apostle’s Creed)
Why hell? Why after all that he endured did he have to go to hell? Did he go to the frozen blackness, put on ice, as it were, until the necessary changes took place in his body? Or did he go to the fiery reaches, there to have the imperfections of his earthly body burned into a new state of cleanliness?
It is Advent. Advent ends in Christmas. So, for me, it is a walk. A serious walk. Sometimes a very slow walk.
This year I received my prayer for Advent. And before I even had the time to begin to process the shock I received when I first read the prayer, I was shown that in order for me accomplish this prayer, I was going to hell.
I am very frightened.
Before I go on, I want to give you some context, so that what is written hereafter will be better explained.
Last week, my Ignatian prayer exercise was a frustrating meeting with Isaiah on the path up the mountain to share with God my dream. I never made it past Isaiah.
And so it was with a sigh of relief that a new week began with a new Ignatian prayer exercise. This one had a kind of story to it. And I was to be the hero of the story.
I am in a garden, the garden is perfect. Everything is wonderful. I go in the house and drink a cup of tea before a roaring fire. I fall asleep.
In my dream I see a very large tree. Up in the leaves are the faces of those I love. I sit at the base of the tree.
Running up to me comes a boy. I am to play with him. I am to chase him around. I am to go slowly enough for him to stay ahead of me.
Great fun is had by all.
There’s more, kisses and laughter and all good things.
My reaction to all of this except the garden: This is stupid.
I actually make it through the exercise, but usually wind up sitting against the tree looking out quietly on the scene before me.
Which I can do just as nicely in the garden.
And so I begin.
The prayer I was given for Advent is as follows:
Loving God, I am grateful for the many ways that you love me. Help me see with your eyes, that I may grow to love Randy as you do. Amen.
Randall David Marks is my husband.
We are no longer married.
This is not a proper place to describe what I “see” when I see Randy.
The profound disturbance I feel when I pray this prayer every day, combined with the ominous threat of going to hell made me realize that I needed help.
So I asked for it. And received it.
Angels on Earth.
Going through the desperation I felt at this assignment with the Angels was intense.
One Angel had a vision and shared it with me: I see that you have a big ball of pain in front of you. And you are not putting it down. Julia, give your ball of pain to Jesus.
Hearing this, I knew I could work with this image. But that I needed to do it in a church.
So, this morning, I walked into a church with a magnificent crucifix hanging before me. I sat down and closed my eyes.
I walked into the garden and sat down. I saw the ball of pain before me. And I saw Jesus standing a little ways off, watching me.
My reaction to experiencing the ball was to cling onto it. It is mine. It belongs to me. It is my friend.
My attachment explained itself further: I was afraid that if I let go of the ball that I was hiding behind, something even worse that caused the ball of pain would happen to me.
I was terrified.
The ball of pain, it seemed, had become a kind of shield for me.
Jesus walked up to me then and just sat down on the grass at my feet. He said nothing.
I continued to cling to the ball. Instead of in the large tree, the faces of those I loved were in the ball. How could I let go of the ball if it contained those closest to my heart?
Then the ball changed. It changed into a stillborn baby, wrapped in a soft blanket.
I cuddled it in my arms. I held it close to me.
But my mind reacted: I’m holding on to something that is dead. I am mad.
Then I realized: the stillborn baby was me.
No wonder I was clutching it to me. No wonder I felt I wanted to wrap my body around it to protect it. To care for it.
It was me. How could I give up a part of me?
But I wanted to know what part of me it was.
Then it came to me.
As tears began to run down my face, and hoping that others in the church would not be offended by my display of emotion, I saw that The Good Wife and The Good Mother had never been allowed to fully come into life.
That aspect of me had died.
A long time ago.
I was a good wife to my husband.
And yet my last act as a wife was to annihilate him.
After eight tortuously long years, against all advice and wisdom of the courts, I gained both physical and legal custody of my children. Randy was only allowed to see the children if and when they asked to do so.
They never asked.
And so I was shown in that moment, that as a good wife, my last gift to my husband was to put him in a position where he could no longer harm the children.
I was a good mother to my children.
And yet after three years of the divorce process, I found that I had no more resources. No money. No emotional stability. No spiritual assurance.
And yet there were five years still to go.
So I grew to see me as carrying my precious children on my back, crawling through a war zone.
But then I caught glimpses of me as mother during that time.
I saw the time my son hit a complete emotional wall. Where he felt as though he could no longer go on. So I took him to the library, and I made him take out a stack of books as tall as he was of bound comics, things like Calvin and Hobbes.
And I told him that this was his assignment from now on. That he was not to worry about mathematical principles, or class projects. We could work on those things together. If he fell behind, he had plenty of time to catch up.
His complete and total assignment was to read comics.
And to laugh.
My daughter grew so anxious that she would not allow any windows in the house to be opened, in case Randy came in.
Even on the second floor.
It is disorienting to watch as logic disappears in one that you love, and a phobia grows right before your eyes.
She also stopped moving her bowels.
She was not going to relax her body one little bit.
So when the screams of pain from such a holding in came, I would sit with her. I on the edge of the bathtub, she on the toilet. And I would tell her that all she had to do was take one sip of orange juice and everything would flow freely.
She could let go.
Sometimes we sat there for hours. Her little, warm hands in my own. And I would tell her stories. Anything that would make her smile.
Anything that would make her consider sipping the orange juice.
And when she finally let go and took the suggestion that the orange juice would do for her what her body would not do on its own, everything would be fine until the killing pains would come again.
As I sat in the church, tears soaking the top of my turtleneck, I looked down at the stillborn in my arms and saw it come to life. It took a breath.
It went from white stone to a warm flesh and blood.
And it was then that I could feel that behind it all was my broken heart.
Broken because I would never again get to be a good wife. Never again take delight in putting together a Friday night dinner party or picking out the right lace panels for the kitchen window.
And I would never again get to be a good mother. Never again casually stroke a cheek in passing or find a missing sock.
Grief is gratitude. Perhaps I have been grieving the loss of that part of me because I was grateful for it when it was there. Grateful for the reality that I continued to be a good wife and a good mother even in a most horrific time.
Perhaps one day I will come to be grateful for that gratitude.
Heavenly Father, for all that has been, thank you. For all that is to be, yes.