Sunday, February 8, 2009

Town Folk of the Mind--Part III

Please read Parts I and II, posted below, first!

Because the paralytic was, in fact, unable to help himself, he would never have reached Jesus without the four men who not only carried him, on his pallet, to the house where Jesus was preaching and healing but, when they couldn't get to Jesus himself, managed to get the pallet up onto the roof of the house and lower it down at Jesus' feet through a hole they had made in the roof.

From time to time, all of us find ourselves paralyzed at heart, if not in body, and unable to help ourselves out of the circumstances that have frozen us in place. Perhaps the cause is indeed sin, as the story in Mark's gospel suggests--not that paralysis, inward or outward is punishment for sin, as the town folk believe, but that ill-doing is apt to trap us, like squirrels in a cage, on a treadmill that takes us around and around in the same circle of repetition and guilt. Kathleen Norris, in her recent book Acedia and Me, repeats a story told to her by a teacher of a classroom full of young children who were out of control. Likely they were chasing each other, yelling, shoving desks out of the way, maybe throwing things, and generally leaving havoc in their week. One little girl, when asked what was going on, answered, "We're being bad, and we don't know how to stop!"

When we're being bad and can't figure out how to stop, or when we're simply feeling helpless to be genuinely good, or when we long for Jesus but can't seem to get our spiritual feet to the place where we can meet him, we need pallet carriers like the four men in the gospel. We know very little about these men. We don't know if they were friends or relatives or simply neighbors. We don't know why they agreed to carry the paralytic to Jesus. We do know that they were generous, determined, and inventive. We also know they were strong. It was no easy task to get someone who could not move onto a roof, pallet and all. It took strength to lower him through the roof without dumping him on Jesus' head. Jesus spots their main quality: their faith prompts him to forgive the paralytic's sin (Mark 2:5).

Since we've been considering the town folk of the mind, both the crowd that blocked the paralytic's road to Jesus and the paralytic himself, we might cast around in our own inner world for the pallet carriers. They are the insights, the qualities, the characteristics that can carry us to the One who can heal us even when we feel utterly unable to walk their ourselves. They include, the story suggests, generosity toward ourselves, determination, creativity, strength, and, of course, faith. Generosity toward ourselves when we are in trouble is essential to protect us from trying to solve our need by simply punishing ourselves. Guilt is heavy. It will not help us to walk. Determination moves us to get up and go without any clear picture of what will happen when we get there. Creativity of heart will free us from the squirrel's treadmill but giving us a different perspective on the issues at hand. That is already a form of liberation and healing--and it is the gift of a creative God to every human being made in the divine image. Our strength may not be apparent to us in our weakness, but most of us are stronger than we imagine, if only we would call on the inner resources God has given us. And, in this case, faith is trust to take the whole sorry mess to Christ without having any idea how he will heal it. For the paralytic in the story, he did the unexpected--he forgave his sins. For us, too, he will quite likely do the unexpected. Let him!

However, lest we imagine ourselves to be self-sufficient and curse ourselves when we find we're not, it would be wise to look outside ourselves for the pallet carriers we need. Who are the generous helpers? Where will we find them? The obvious answer is among relatives, friends, pastors or other religious figures. However, sometimes they might appear in the form of a wise novelist, an insightful poet, or an artist or musician who can lift us out of our entrapment in our small selves. Their commitment to the integrity of their own craft, their creativity, their strength of vision, their faith may carry us into the Presence for which we long. And they are only suggestions--as moments of disaster always demonstrate, generous human beings with helping hands outstretched are everywhere, if only we allow them to see our need and to help us out of it.

An interesting lot, the town folk of the mind, our constant companions, our friends and our foes. And, more often than we know, our saving grace.

©2009 Abbey of St. Walburga

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