Thursday, December 22

the soul's worth

My favorite Christmas carol is O, Holy Night. I decided this when I noted the lyrics, "Long lay the world/in sin and error, pining/Till He appeared/and the soul felt its worth...

Christmas time capsule
It surprises me that suffering causes people to question the existence of God. Since I was small, it's been the other way around. It's always when I am most acutely hurting that I am most convinced of a greater source of compassion. 

I don't remember the particular ailment, but I do remember sitting crumpled over on the toilet, my toes barely reaching the floor. I felt agony that my parents were powerless to alleviate. And I knew in that moment that I had need beyond human means to meet. I groaned for God because there was nowhere else to groan.

I got sick frequently as a kid; bedridden sick, as my mom would say, from earaches to tonsillitis. I was hospitalized at five for diarrhea-induced dehydration. They attached me to an IV. We called him Harry. Harry went everywhere with me, even to the toilet. 

I was seven when I watched a man with cerebral palsy talk about how God called him to be a preacher. He spoke his story with awkward gestures in halting, varied pitch. It was one of the most painful and beautiful things I have ever seen. I wanted God to use me like that.

"Whatever you want me to do, wherever you want me to go," I promised through tears.

It wasn't till many years later that I began to understand what I was asking for. I'd become so competent at succeeding, I figured that's what God wanted, and I was handling it. Then, just when I was really getting started, it all fell apart. For more on this lovely time of my life, see previous posts. Suffice it to say, it was way beyond diarrhea. 

I was pissed, and I'm not talking drunk, though that might have helped. Unfortunately alcohol was strictly forbidden for my recovery diet. One night, in a fit of frustration, I looked out the kitchen window into the dark.

"What are you doing to me?! I can't take it anymore. Say something, dammit!"

I waited. And then I heard it. Not audibly, thankfully, because as much as I wanted a sign, that would have scared the shit out of me. 

"I love you." That was it. Well, thanks a hell of a lot, I thought.

Not long after that, a friend gave me a book called the Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. It was early July and I was about to move back east, a complete failure as far as I was concerned. Also, I'd never been to the Grand Canyon. One of these wrongs was more easily righted. I jumped in the car with my mom and we set out to see, in my opinion, a huge hole in Arizona. I threw the Ragamuffin Gospel in the glove box. 

"Never confuse your perception of yourself with the mystery that you really are accepted," says Manning. That was exactly it; I'd confused Divine love with a mirror reflecting my shortcomings. Manning further quotes the Apostle Paul, "the Lord said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.'"

Sitting on the rim of the Grand Canyon, the sun setting on a red horizon, I felt minute, my decisions of small consequence next to such fathomless beauty. It was a lot like watching the preacher with cerebral palsy.

"How deep the Father's love for us/How vast beyond all measure..." cries the hymn. It didn't matter how far I fell, I would never reach the bottom of Grace.

Sometimes people come to the knowledge of God in a euphoric experience of enlightenment. I generally find God on the toilet. But really, when else are we more exposed, more vulnerable, more open to divine intervention?

But we'll never fully understand, not in this life, what happened on that Holy Night. The Son of God born into an animal feeding trough is about as crazy as power perfected in weakness, or a girl who found her calling in a missing appendage.

What I do know, is that my soul feels its worth.