I remember as a girl hearing about the three tests a man would give his potential bride in Russia. One of them was to untangle a ball of yarn.
And I remember thinking, What a wonderful test.
I couldn’t imagine a nicer thing to do on a rainy afternoon, listening to some wonderful music after my eyes grew tired of reading (it was before I knew that I was far-sighted and needed glasses to read with less eye strain).
Perhaps even better than embroidery.
But here I am, faced with untangling the threads of my past. And I don’t find delight in it. Instead of relaxing into patience, I tighten with impatience.
Instead of tolerating the task of carefully untying the knots and following the lead thread on its twisted and confused path, I am offended by what I am having to learn about myself on my own twisted and confused emotional path.
This week, my Ignatian spiritual prayer puts me on a crowded city street, where I come upon a seemingly homeless man sitting on the sidewalk. It took me mere seconds to recognize the man: he is wearing a fur blanket over layered clothing. And he is holding a sign asking me if I was ready to go into my wilderness.
John, The Baptist.
John, The Baptist!
I couldn’t ask for a more delightful sight in a prayer.
And so I sat right down on the sidewalk with him.
I seem to be sitting on a lot of sidewalks these days.
I curl my arm underneath his and take his hand. I lean against him and put my head on his shoulder.
What a relief it is to me to find John, The Baptist, right there, right here, in my own prayer.
John isn’t really a man to hand out relief to people, is he?
And so this week has been about John confronting me about not following the instruction to give Jesus the pain I carry over the fissure in my marriage.
Among other things.
Wilderness, he tells me, is something that, unlike most people, I carry about with me wherever I go.
You’re not normal, he tells me.
I tell him, what a relief it is to hear someone else say it for once.
(Even while I am thinking: this is a prayer; John isn’t a real someone.)
When first nudged about my pain and the instruction to give it to Jesus, I find myself kneeling before Jesus’s creche. I put my own baby, that I’m carrying with me throughout these prayers, down, and I pick up the infant, Jesus.
And I cry, asking, How can I give my pain to such a precious thing?
And I realize that my perception of Jesus as precious is only expanded when I think of the open cuts across his back, the sweat that runs paths through the filth that covers his body.
How can I give my pain to someone so precious?
Precious beyond value.
John is there beside me.
Can I give my pain to you? I ask him.
It would be my honor to take it.
Except the next day he tells me that while yes, he did say he would gladly take it, he would only do so if and when I completed my exploration of my reluctance to give it to Jesus.
Meaning, no, this is your wilderness to explore.
And so I kneel once again before the creche and take the baby in my arms.
I know I have to tell the truth to John. That’s why he exists in my life. I know that.
There are so many layers, it seems, to my feelings about Jesus.
Feelings I never knew I carried with me.
I not only want to protect Jesus from pain, I don’t just want to not give him my pain, I want to absorb his pain.
My pain seems so flimsy and frivolous compared with his.
If I could, I would strip myself naked to the waist, kneel down, and take his lashes for him. And while I might not be strong enough to carry the whole cross, I would like to form a group of people who would ease that burden completely from him.
I can feel the beating of his heart.
I can’t burden it with more sorrow.
It is ironic because all during my visions of my descent into hell, it is Jesus who is there by my side, gently lifting me back up off my knees when I fall because of grief. It is Jesus who makes sweet, funny comments so that I can keep my chin up and my eyes on the path in front of us.
Because of him, I can face the horror before me. It’s like a darker and more demented Wonderland.
It is he who protects me and the baby I still carry in my arms. Even when I grow morose with the thought that the baby herself is a mockery of that part of me, The Good Wife and The Good Mother, that has been bent and broken, it is Jesus who knows how to still my heart.
I can feel in all that his absoluteness. His endless grace and graciousness.
To John, I have to admit that I see a youthful weakness in Jesus.
I am a mother of a young-man-son. And, in spite of him being perfect in my eyes, I see him as a kind of sapling that has sprung up too fast and too hard out of the ground, while holding too much in his mind. So much that it is always threatening to topple him.
All his ideas have not yet found a man’s balance.
And I see this in Jesus.
So young, and yet with so, so much responsibility. So much to accomplish.
And those revealing moments.
At the wedding at Cana, we learn that he is God on Earth.
Who bristles at his mother’s instruction.
And then goes ahead and does what she tells him.
God on Earth.
With a stage mother.
It’s always about women where he gets turned around.
She’s just preparing me for my burial. Leave her be.
He feels he needs to explain himself. Defend himself.
To his own disciples.
And that poor, poor fig tree.
How can I give my pain to someone who has that much to do? Who has crowds pressing in on him from all sides?
Am I to be one of the crowd?
Me, Jesus. Give me what I want, Jesus.
How can I?
If anything, I want to stand back and let him have some peace from all the demands put on him.
All the prayers he receives.
Which is not to say that I don’t pray to him. I do. Every night, with evening prayer, I pray to him for my children.
I pray to his Sacred Heart:
Lord, allow your healing hand to heal Nathaniel and Lila. Touch their souls with your compassion for others. Touch their hearts with your courage and infinite love for all. Touch their minds with your wisdom so that their mouths may always proclaim your praise. Bring them health in body and spirit that they may serve you with all their strength. Amen.
It’s not that I feel that I don’t deserve the love someone could give me to relieve me of my burden. It’s just that I haven’t found a way yet to come out from behind the feelings of protectiveness that I feel toward Jesus.
Give your pain to Jesus, John instructs me.
I said, “no,” to you once before, I remind him.
But you found your way around to, “yes,” eventually, he counters.
So perhaps this is what it is all about.
Finding myself, once again, on the path to “yes.”