A priest at my parish told about the crucifix that hung in the chapel of the novitiate where he prepared for the priesthood. He was intrigued that the corpus of Christ was nailed, not to a cross, but to the brick wall of the chapel.
He decided, he said, that the message to him was that in our time, Jesus is most often nailed to the walls and barriers we build in our lives and communities, rather than the wooden cross of old.
To me, this is not a bleak image, but one of hope, because Jesus himself is imposed upon those barriers, and he is stronger than and ultimately triumphant over man-made walls. We just have to see him there.
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it,” wrote the 13th century poet Rumi.
This same poet said, “Ours is not a caravan of despair … Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again, come, come.”
That quote reminds me of the Prodigal Son’s father, who doesn’t wait for an apology before exulting in the appearance of his dissolute son appearing off in the distance. The one who has been lost returns. The fatted cow is slain and a wall collapses.
Sometimes, in these weary times, we have to make a purposeful decision to cling to hope and to joy. I have the bad habit of checking for “news” too often. It’s more like checking for noise, the endless banter and opinion that fills social media and the websites I consult.
Many of us are news junkies and it’s good to be well-informed citizens. I have my Congressional members’ numbers in my phone contacts and frequently call.
But sometimes, as for checking one more website, enough is enough.
What calms the weary heart? A good practice in the New Year would be to consult the Scripture readings of the day. They are, after all, a daily gift from the church that unites us with Catholics and Christians everywhere. Prayer begins here.
Another source of comfort and an opening to prayer is poetry. Mary Oliver is a particular favorite of mine.
“Lord, what shall I do that I can’t quiet myself?” she asks on behalf of all of us over-stimulated media hounds, (without mentioning us or the media). “To learn the importance of stillness … I will learn also to kneel down into the world of the invisible, the inscrutable and the everlasting.”
Ordering her newest collection, “Devotions,” is a New Year’s plan.
A Facebook friend, who posts almost daily political rants, quieted down long enough to post Wendell Berry’s lovely poem, “The Peace of Wild Things.”
“I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.”
If you haven’t read Berry’s poem, look it up. It comforts the weary insomniac.
Then, if you need further affirmation of faith and joy, buy Jesuit Father Greg Boyle’s latest book, “Barking to the Choir.” Many Alaskans have read and love “Tattoos on the Heart” and in many ways “Barking” is just “Tattoos, Part Two.”
Father Boyle founded Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, the largest gang intervention, rehab, and reentry program in the world. In “Barking to the Choir,” he once again shows us God, touchingly and humorously, in the gang members he serves.
Let’s not weary the New Year with forethought of grief. Let’s remember Jesus overcoming walls. Ours is not a caravan of despair.