Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Filling the Holes

Last Wednesday, the last time I posted, was a rough day.  By the time I finished my post, I thought I had sufficiently worked through the pain I was feeling.  Turns out I was wrong.  The feelings hit me in waves that day.  The tears I'd fought when I was writing came back later.  I was a thunderstorm, sobs shaking me as a steady flow of rain fell from my eyes.

Thankfully, the storm passed; it had only lingered within me for a day. I woke up Thursday, soul cleansed by the torments that washed over me the day before; spirit renewed, in part, by you.

Thursday I had to prepare for Forgiveness Friday with students.  I'm teaching a spirituality seminar, a class that lends itself to activities like rituals for practicing forgiveness.  The focus last week was "Who do I need to ask forgiveness?"

Our ceremony would begin with a story about a boy with a bad temper. The boy's father told him to hammer a nail into a door each time he lost his temper.  When the boy got to the point where he could go a day without hammering, his father told him to take a nail out each day he went without losing control of himself.  When the boy had removed all the nails from the door, his father told him to look at the door, at the holes, at all the damage he'd done.

I knew we would do a ritual in which my students would remove nails from wood - a cross - as they recalled some place they needed to acknowledge damage they'd done.  They'd take the nails with them as a reminder.

I was telling a friend about the ritual, and he asked, "But then what do we do about the holes?"

I looked at him with no answer, though I knew there must be an answer.  I knew neither the story nor the ritual were complete until my friend's question was answered.

Yes, we do damage. We leave holes. But we can't stop there or our holey world can never be wholly holy.  The boy's story ended, but it left us without any sense of redemption or healing.  How could I bring those vital elements into conversation and into our ritual?

Without realizing it, I had the answer in front of me.  I'd chosen an excerpt from Matthew's gospel (5:21-24):

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

Normally in reading this passage, I would focus on the beginning, on the damage that even anger does in our relationships, but the story of the boy had already covered that.  Instead, we focused on verses 23 and 24. 

We accept the pain that we've caused, try to make amends, and offer our gifts to God.  We offer ourselves as healers, as hole-fillers. 

In the class ritual, each student took a nail out of the cross.  In doing so, he acknowledged to the group or to himself a place in his life where he'd left a hole.  Then in the hole in the cross, he put a piece of paper on which he'd written one of the gifts he can offer for the healing of our world.  

I don't know what my students wrote on their papers.  I told them that if they weren't sure yet what gifts they have that might bring solace to a grieving world, they could simply write "myself." God knows what their gifts are. That's what is important.  I, through the privilege of teaching the class, have the joy of seeing the gifts revealed, in small glimpses, during our time together. 

Each piece of paper was like a gem, making the cross more beautiful and more valuable.  It was only in taking out the nails and filling the holes that the cross became more holy, infused with offerings of the divinity we each have within us.  We filled the holes with precious gifts to give God and our neighbors so that we, individually and collectively, might be whole and holy. 

The cross now resides on a shelf in the classroom, an ever-present reminder of both the destruction and creation we bring to the world, of the holes that call us to holiness. 

I received a number of responses, both public and private, to my last post.  Each message was like a piece of paper in the cross, a gem, a gift, filling holes left from past wounds. Thank you for inviting me into wholeness by sharing your holiness.  

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