We all need reminders, in the Corona-daze, of Gospel basics. We leave outside (where they belong) the blustering prognostications of the fundamentalist naysayers and return to the simplicity and impossibility of eternal grace. The Gospel, birthed not in shame, but in love (remember John 3:16?), is a never-ending well of nourishing goodness and hope.
For the longest time I had attributed it to the insistent paradigm of the poet’s logic, the lover’s unrequited dreams, the shifting clouds of the philosopher’s quest – all searching for something – a reality as numinous and perfect as it is deceptively secret and stubbornly resistant to conquest.
An ever-present sense of melancholy, a numbing ache, an unnameable yearning – desolation even – has draped my consciousness for many years. It seems I am a walking advertisement for mood enhancing substances and the pharmaceutical drug trade (or, maybe just self-pity?)
Sometimes, and inexplicably, my soul is shot through with little darts of light – suggestions of heaven, of how things truly are. They come unbidden mostly as ghostly sojourners, inhabitants of a more perfect realm come to slake my wheezing soul with wine, bread, and perhaps a song or two.
In recent days, this ubiquitous, verbose Demon of Grey Souls has gnawed at me for so long that it seems, by virtue of that fact, to have overplayed its hand. The hide ‘n seek after contentment, so long now the haunt of my days, has been smoldering behind its best hiding places under new rays of sun. I had willingly become a pawn in a cat and mouse game and my overseer has grown too fat to hide well.
New light, still diffuse and weak, but less coy or troublesome, is asking me a question; the ironic question Jesus once posed to some poor bugger by the Jerusalem Sheep Gate: do you want to be healed?
On the surface it’s a question as ridiculous as asking two young lovers, separated by time and circumstance, whether they’d like to make love. Upon reflection however, it reveals shear genius and a profound knowledge of the human psyche. In asking such a question, Jesus becomes more than just miracle-worker, more than a first-century doctor. He becomes psychologist and spiritual director.
He gazes beyond the obvious malady to which this fellow is chained and sees something else. His question is aimed at the man’s fear, not of remaining ill, but of the unknown world that might just open to him in the face of his healing. To be healed is to rejoin society. It is to refuse the Hogwart’s sorting hat from placing you once again into the House of Sufferin’. It is to relinquish the comfortable role of pitied and pitiful, dependent on the succoring cries of others, and take up one’s place responsibly as contributor and co-builder of a just and compassionate world.
The Spirit of God is revealing to me just how long I have sat beside my own Beth-zatha (see Jn. 5:2ff) with the expectation of healing but full of excuses for why it shouldn’t have or hasn’t yet happened. The brooding and mysterious artist persona, complete with philosopher-poet mystique and generous helping of eyes-down, hood-up melancholy is no longer a big enough hiding place for the overwhelming presence of this question, posed by Jehovah-Rapha (God, our healer).
Perhaps it’s about timing, we must wait until our own “fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4)? Perhaps God is content, as in the case of Job, to let us sit in our sackcloth and ashes long enough to remove all doubt that we’re so buried that only another can save us? Perhaps it’s just “our turn?”
Says Marilyn Gardiner, “We sit, often for years, with our paralysis. It may not be physical paralysis, but it is just as debilitating and defeating as physical paralysis. It prevents us from truly living, from being who we are called to be.”*
Whatever the case, I am ready to answer ‘yes’ to the question of Jesus. I am ready to shed one skin, now old and overused, and don a better one. I am ready to see what has always existed just below the surface of my murky water.