Another Tuesday night at St. Michael's. Just in case I forgot the day (which, however strange, does happen on occasion when I've over-extended myself), the growl of the motorcycles on Tuesday evening would remind me. From the Rectory, I can hear the parking lot noise of the Tuesday evening 12-Step group that gathers at St. Michael's. It's a well-attended group. The parking lot is filled with snazzy cars nicer than anything I'll ever drive, tripped out motorcycles that cost more than any car I'll ever drive, regular cars, and even some bicycles. Some don't have cars; they walk from the bus stop. In other words, that meeting draws a gathering that looks something like the Kingdom of Heaven.
You can probably imagine the people that drive these vehicles. I see them often as I walk from the church to the Rectory, or as I take Sophie out on her evening walk. Some professionals, some young men and women looking fearful, some men and women looking like they instill fear with the amount of leather and chains they wear. Many know each other. Like many 12-Step groups, some of these men and women have been coming for years. Some are new, hesitant to come into a room and be as vulnerable as perhaps many humans get, to stand in front of strangers and admit they are broken.
Then to hear that they are welcomed.
Like I said, something of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Whether it's substance abuse, emotional trauma, or the wounds that happen because we live life, we are all broken. One of the great sins of the church is the aspect of pride that invites us to fool ourselves that we are all okay, that nothing rattles us, drives us to our knees, and leaves us bleeding. That pride seduces us to look with disdain on those who admit their wounds, as if they are weak, humbled, and just can't "deal" with life. I wonder if those times when we cuddle up to pride are really times when we are so fearful of our own brokenness that we are left with nothing but the mantra that tries desperately to convince us we are okay. Sort of like thinking you need to look in the mirror, wondering if you do have something stuck between your teeth, but refusing to do so because you're afraid of what you'll see. So you simply tell anyone who will listen that you either don't have anything between your teeth or you meant to cram a huge piece of parsley between your incisors.
Those communities of faith, whether they are officially religious or simply religious because they are a gathering of those who admit they need community and help, preach a needed message to us. Their roots are often in monastic spirituality, where men and women joined together in community to live fully, not just to promote their successes, but to live into their failures. A modern community, Thistle Farms from the Community of Magdalene, has 24 Spiritual Practices that engender the grace of living in community. The Community of Magdalene is comprised of women who have survived lives of violence, prostitution, and addiction. They live by some beautiful rules from which we all could learn. A few of the ones that resonate with me: Take the Longer Path, Stand on New Ground and Believe You Are Not Lost, Remember You Have Been in the Ditch, and Find Your Way Home.
Perhaps one reason Jesus spent time with prostitutes, tax collectors, and other outcasts had much to do with his recognizing their wisdom. The Ancient Near East, much like our own, had a love affair with perceived power and strength. All cultures probably do. We like titles, accolades, and the appearance of "Aren't I Awesome!" that we often have to repeat over and over and over to others, mostly trying to convince ourselves. Having an affair with pride, that sin that invites us to comparative judgments and measuring oneself by externals, often justifies our mocking and denigration of those who are courageous enough to admit their wounds.
I've often wondered the impact if, when Episcopal clergy were ordained or were renewing their ordination vows, they had to stand before the gathered community and say, "Hi, I'm (state your name) and I'm broken in these places (details here)." I have a feeling that idea would cause some clergy blood to run cold.
Yet isn't that a core of love? Admitting that we are as much the beaten person in the ditch as we are the priest and Levite who ignore him/her and the Good Samaritan who eventually helps? The wisdom of the prostitutes, the addicts, the victims of life, and those whose brutal honesty makes so many of us uncomfortable, is that they go into their darkest selves, their deepest souls that have done hurtful things to themselves and others, and know they are loved by a God who knows them fully and loves them enough to urge them on the longer path of self-awareness.
I watched last Tuesday night as a man who looked rather imposing by his size and the message on his t-shirt about getting thrown out of hell because the devil was afraid he'd take over walked over to a young woman sitting alone on a bench. She was young and trying to reduce her presence to nothing. Many of us who have been broken know that pose. He put his hand on her shoulder and said nothing, but somehow acknowledged her pain, even perhaps her shame. She smiled. He nodded, and said, "I expect to see you next week." And in a voice that shook because it spoke the truth, she said, "Yes."
Like I said, something like the Kingdom of Heaven.
Want to know more about the amazing ministry of Thistle Farms and the Community of Madgalene? Click here