So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
-- Luke 2:4-7
Pain makes you selfish. I’d like to put a spiritual spin on that, but that’s the bottom line. If there is a universal principle here somewhere it roughly translates to this: when your penis hurts, it’s difficult to think about anything else.
Meanwhile life (and death) goes on. I walked (like John Wayne) into work this morning to be handed several impossible deadlines, all of which need to be met in the next few days. My sister-in-law, who is a damned good teacher, and head of an award-winning program that teaches art to high school kids in the hood, was informed Friday that her position is being eliminated. Apparently ghetto kids don’t need art. Our friends Matt and Quenetta welcomed their baby girl, their first child, prematurely to the world yesterday afternoon. She lived for three hours and died in their arms. My California brother-in-law Mark called me earlier this morning to inform me that his father had just passed away from cancer, and that he and my sister will be in Columbus most of this week. They need all the support we can give them.
And I only know one thing: my penis hurts, a lot.
Adrienne said in her sermon yesterday that God loves us perfectly, and that we cannot be loved any more than we are. I heard this, agreed with it in theory, and wondered what it meant for somebody who pees blood instead of urine. I’m looking for the perfection. I don’t mean that in a snotty way. I mean that I really do want to come to an understanding, even if it is a dim and imperfect one, of what the perfect love of God means in the midst of suffering and great pain, mine and others.
The current Pope, Benedict XVI, doesn’t like popular music. He’s made a series of inflammatory statements that infuriate me, and remind me how much damage those who are clueless and who wield great power can unleash. But he’s recently released an encyclical called SPE SALVI facti sumus (In Hope We Were Saved) that amazes me and heartens me, and reminds me that the aesthetically challenged can still have great spiritual insight. Benedict wrote, in part:
All serious and upright human conduct is hope in action. This is so first of all in the sense that we thereby strive to realize our lesser and greater hopes, to complete this or that task which is important for our onward journey, or we work towards a brighter and more humane world so as to open doors into the future. Yet our daily efforts in pursuing our own lives and in working for the world's future either tire us or turn into fanaticism, unless we are enlightened by the radiance of the great hope that cannot be destroyed even by small-scale failures or by a breakdown in matters of historic importance. If we cannot hope for more than is effectively attainable at any given time, or more than is promised by political or economic authorities, our lives will soon be without hope. It is important to know that I can always continue to hope, even if in my own life, or the historical period in which I am living, there seems to be nothing left to hope for. Only the great certitude of hope that my own life and history in general, despite all failures, are held firm by the indestructible power of Love, and that this gives them their meaning and importance, only this kind of hope can then give the courage to act and to persevere.
And this is what I am called to do, painful penis and all. I am called to be an ambassador of hope at a specific time -- today, this week -- to specific people who may, and probably do, feel hopeless. The timing is bad. But the timing is never good. It’s never convenient. But we make room. We open up the dirty, uncleaned room at the back of the inn of our hearts, and we open up the windows and haul in a mop and a broom and we say “No, you don’t need to leave. You’re welcome here.” We make room for hope. We make ourselves available, in all our inadequacy and incompetence, to be agents of hope. A world in darkness sees a great light. We, if are faithful, reflect the light: dimly, but consistently, and perhaps never more importantly than when we don’t feel like shining at all. God, help me. And help them to see the hope to which we are called.