“To be lonely is to feel unwanted and unloved, and therefore unlovable. Loneliness is a taste of death. No wonder some people who are desperately lonely lose themselves in mental illness or violence to forget the inner pain.”
-Jean Vanier, Becoming Human
I hope you don’t mind me calling you Jean. Perhaps you prefer Monsieur Vanier? Mr. Vanier? Father Jean? I’m not one for high traditions and titles. One’s name is one’s name, and names shape our identities. So for now, I will write to you as a friend and mentor: my mentor Jean.
For a year I wrote to your friend, Henri Nouwen. It was an intimate connection with a teacher whom I shadowed from around corners and from behind park benches. Shadowing you feels a bit different: you’re still living here with us earth-side. Henri has long since passed on to even greater adventures.
Shadowing you feels a bit like being able to see the world around me after my eyes have adjusted from peering into a sunset. The world becomes substantial. With Henri, it felt like I was continually having to hide away from a distant light.
The world hurts. It is hurting everywhere, as Warsan Shire would say. There was an attack in Nice last night; I can’t begin to fathom the pain in your heart right now, bearing witness to such violence in the country you love so much, against the people you love so dearly.
Our province was told last night that an abducted little girl, just five years old, was found murdered after days of searching. There is a suspect in custody and, as vengeful as I feel, I am terrified of the response demanding Canada bring back the death penalty.
France…Iraq…South Sudan…Afghanistan…Syria… where do I stop?
Here in Canada, the violence perpetuated against indigenous women is still a vibrant fear stalking many through the cities, on the highways, and in homes. We whisper here and there about the strides we’ve made and how far we’ve come — about how All Lives Matter — and fail to see how our words drip the seeds of prejudice, stereotypes and racism. We still think that outbursts of violence like Nazism or the KKK are made of racist people. Residential school is a thing of the past! We need to move on. The playing field is equal for all.
We have yet to accept that the magma beneath the earth — our thoughts, privileges, intentions, and dismissals — are what really make up racism… and homophobia, transphobia, neglect and abuse of people with disabilities, or any xenophobic ideal we cling to believing we’re still believing rightly. Even in our attempted discussions about race, sexual orientation/gender identity, disabilities, and poverty we can sound so cruel towards one another. It’s as if we have lost the ability to dig deeper.
Discomfort has always been intolerable to us.
Sitting with it even more so.
But choosing to sit with our discomfort as another person hesitantly shares their pocked and scarred narratives is a gifting from God, I believe. It’s a rare gem we cast aside too quickly wanting to be rid of the pebble in our shoe.
Many are moaning: “When will it all end?!”
Somehow I think the world has not become more evil. I think, in my limited and broken way, that these faces of evil have always existed in one mask or another. We are only becoming more knowledgeable about these grim events.
We did, after all, eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We chose to want to experience not only good and evil, but the knowledge of both. We ate of the fruit, and now we are in the process of coming-to-know.
Yet I don’t think at any point in human history have we come to know so quickly and, with the growing population of the world squishing us all together and making our worlds smaller, we have never known so many separate evils at the same time.
These events have always happened.
We simply know them now.
And quite often we are coming to know our active and/or passive roles within them.
And we screech at this.
Every generation sees the end of the world in its life cycles. Every generation longs to be exempt from such times.
But no one is exempt.
You once said that if God is truly love and if love is vulnerable, that means God is also vulnerable (“The Wisdom of Tenderness“, On Being with Krista Tippet, May 28 2015). While I don’t like to think of God that way — I balk at the whiff of it — your words don’t ring hollow with me. Your words are shaped by the lives of people already made castoffs by the world, the unwanted, the misunderstood, and the gifted whose gifts have been rejected.
Therein lies God. Therein lies vulnerability.
Ahhh, the knowledge of good: seeing how so many people in our world have no choice in their displays of vulnerability (while I carefully hide what I choose and reveal what I wish), and yet are the very ones who embrace fully, forgive freely, and celebrate openly.
I need to know about this good.
I need to experience this good.
The fruit, after all, was for both good and evil. Like most people, I so easily tip the scales towards the darkness and ingest as much of it as I can.
Good can’t just be a pithy misquoted Facebook meme or some New Age mantra that might give a few chills, but really is really no more than a sugar rush. What comes after is wide open prison of nothingness. Good needs to be embodied, lived, and given.
Embodied, lived, and given.
I’ve heard this story before.
Good was embodied, lived, and given before. We killed it then too, just as we rushed to embrace it.
We are hurting today, Jean. Holding space for this hurt is hard not because of the trauma or the grief; but it’s relentlessly difficult because it appears to have no end. Why continue to hold space when there is no end in sight?
Sigh… in the question lies the answer, doesn’t it?
Peace to you this day.
Until next time,