Don’t Cling to Me

(Note: This was the closing presentation for the retreat. Essentially, it’s about the commission God gives each of us when we experience healing through him.)

(John 20:11-18)

Now  it’s time to go out into the world. We’ve looked at the way Christ healed when he walked among us as a man. We’ve looked at some tools that we can use to open our hearts and minds to the healing he wants to bring into our lives. So, now what?

To close, we’re using a Resurrection story that brought healing into my life at a very painful juncture. If you don’t mind, I want to read this one myself.

A READING FROM THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN  (John 20:11-18)

The year my youngest daughter entered her senior year in high school, I began to examine my options for the future. For more than 20 years, the defining role in my life was motherhood. I didn’t know who I would be without a child under my roof. Because my faith life had  begun to deepen, I felt that what I did needed in some way to be service-related or related to the Church.

Then I learned the religious order I wanted to enter when I was in high school had voted to take older women and divorced women. I knew immediately that I needed to explore that possibility. From the beginning, it felt right to me. When I visited their convent, it felt like home. When I attended the monthly retreats, everything covered was consistent with the way the Spirit was working in my life. The vocations director didn’t experience that same sense of rightness. From the beginning, she encouraged me to consider other options, but I just thought I needed to prove myself to her and didn’t really listen.

In the end, after nearly two years in formation, I did withdraw but it was very difficult and I grieved. The individual who acted as a spiritual director to me during that time was an Episcopalian priest that I had met about a year earlier. We bonded because we shared a lot – we were both raised Catholic, both divorced, she had been a journalist as I was at the time, we both felt called by God to serve. We had gotten in the habit of meeting on a regular basis to talk about our spiritual journeys, so it was natural for me to turn to her.

On that occasion, Linda invited me to meet her in her office. Prior to that, we’d always met for lunch or dinner at a restaurant, so I’d never been to her church. After we talked for a while, and I’d shared my pain with her, Linda took me into the sanctuary of her church and we approached the altar. I wasn’t sure what she had in mind, but I was hurting so much, I was open to anything that might lead to healing.   At the foot of the altar, she told me to turn around, and as I did so, I saw the stained glass window she saw every Sunday from the altar – Jesus with Mary Magdalene at the resurrection. Then she read to me the passage I just read and invited me to stay there as long as I wanted and to visit the church as often as I wanted so that I could meditate on Christ’s presence in my grief and in my life.

Grief is another of the wounds we experience in life. Sometimes we lose people we love. Sometimes, as was the case for me, our loss isn’t about another person at all, but is about something we valued. This passage said much to me in my grief and I want to share a few of those thoughts with you in closing.

First, just as Mary didn’t recognize Jesus, we may not recognize God at work at painful times in our life. I’m not going to expand on that, because the subject of human suffering is beyond what we have time for here. I’m just going to say that God is with us in our pain. Just as Mary continued to seek Jesus when Peter and John went back to the other disciples, we need to be tenacious in seeking him when we hurt. The discipline I bring to my prayer life now, grew out of that time in my life. Before that, I had a tendency to be hit-or-miss with prayer depending upon how I felt and what was going on in my life. But, I can’t do that anymore.

Second, just as Jesus called Mary by name, we will find that the comfort and healing we receive will be personal.  The odds are pretty good that God being God, he will work in our lives in ways we don’t expect. But if we are open to the way he wants to work, we will see that those things which helped us heal, which helped us move past our pain, were tailor-made for us. In my case, Linda inviting me to meditate in her church was part of the healing. Another part was the awesome prayer community I had within the religious order I had sought to join. After I withdrew from formation, the sisters indicated they wanted to continue meeting with me regularly as we had during formation, and we made a weekend retreat together once a month for as long as I lived in Pierre. The wisdom and support of those incredible women helped me gain perspective on what had happened and allowed me to maintain a relationship with the congregation even though I did not take vows. Finally — and this may sound strange, but God can be strange sometimes –I found comfort in doing plein air painting. A couple years earlier I’d had a burnout job and had quit painting, but suddenly I found I couldn’t paint often enough. When I was painting, I felt at one with the Creator and that feeling of oneness with God  slowly led to a feeling of wholeness within. That’s what I mean about comfort being tailor-made.

Finally, this is the thought I want to leave you with:  After Jesus comforted Mary with his presence,  he gave her a commission. “Don’t cling to me. Go tell the others what has happened.” God’s love for us is a great gift. The healing he brings into our lives is a great gift. But, it’s not just for us. The gift is for us to share, to call us into community so that we can be a healing presence in the lives of others.

That may involve the simple act of touching someone as Jesus touched the leper. In our society, there are a lot of touch-deprived people, people who  don’t have friends or family members to hug them in a loving way.

Your gift of presence may be listening to another person, really listening to them as Jesus listened to the woman with the hemorrhage. Too often when we’re in conversation with others, we’re not listening. We’re thinking about what we’re going to say.

You may be a healing presence in someone’s life by helping to lighten the burdens that bend them over. What you do doesn’t have to be momentous. I live in an apartment building with an elderly woman who is considered the apartment manager. This winter when it snowed, she would fret if the sidewalk wasn’t cleaned. The young man who was supposed to clean it worked out-of-town, so I’d do the sidewalks when he wasn’t available. It didn’t take long, but it comforted her enormously.

The important thing is to do it with a generous heart, to do it because God has poured out his love into your life and you want to send ripples of that love into the lives of others.

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