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“If you love the truth, be a lover of silence. Silence like the sun will illuminate you in God.”—a trenchant saying attributed to Isaac the Syrian, the seventh-century Bishop, theologian, and monk who the Eastern Orthodox Church regards as a saint.

Simple words, if pondered, reveal the unseen caught in the flux of time. Key to this process is passion, whose firelight, like the sun, ignites inner worlds. But who cares to go there? To discipline unruly instincts clamoring for expression? That would be like dying. Such flies in the face of our cultural mores, engulfed in denial and rationalization. The predictable is more comfortable, yet soulless.

It does not take much to see who is truly alive among us: their quickening gaze, their resonant voices, their authority, of whatever age and background.

That’s what happens when you sit in the fire. It works…

“I sat in Dr. Cone’s classroom at Union—that’s where I did my theology—back in the late ‘80s,” said Eunice, her soft eyes alight behind rimless glasses. “Yes, he was a master teacher, mild-mannered despite the hard truth of his people he espoused in his lectures and books,” she added resting her hand upon the dining room table, its vase of tulips beginning to fade. “But I’ve been away from all that for sometime—I didn’t know of this book.”

Her response to my blog on Dr. Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree left me breathless, but not from lung issues. Additional reflection upon his identifying the Crucified with Black victims of lynching flared my psychic pain: Both experienced mob rule, torture, jeering, and slow agonizing deaths, alluded to in the first blog, but now felt. Rather than follow the chaplain—patient dialogue of previous visits, our conversation took off in a different direction: its synchronicity demanded it.

Yet, it did not come off as I had hoped, due to my dearth of words; they only came later. At best, I skirted around the glaring issue stinging my innards, and some preliminaries did surface: Eunice’s South Carolinian origins; growing up in York County, site of numerous cotton and rice plantations worked by slaves; her physician father’s segregated waiting room; planning a picnic for the townspeople on the grounds of Davidson College, her college, that up-ended a KKK rally planned for Main Street; attending Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan, known for its liberal bent; and her continued studies in spirituality that enhance her role as chaplain.

I listened, deeply, asked questions, and later researched South Carolina’s practice of slavery through the lens of the Crucified: it blistered my soul wound still more, scraped my entitlement, and woke me to what’s coming.

Our chaplain—patient dialogue will continue.

 

 

It was taking so long, I fumed, as I stood over a flat pan filled with pieces of burning palm, from last year’s celebration of Palm Sunday. Only straggly bits of ash broke free from the snapping flames, not nearly enough for tomorrow’s Ash Wednesday Mass in the convent chapel. It was 1968, New Orleans. Little did I grasp the significance of what I was doing—just one more responsibility as sacristan.

Only as years of ashen life experiences frittered into insubstantiality did I begin to wake up to my flawed humanness—a humanness I denied, disguised, expunged from awareness. I trusted no one with my inner world, not even God to whom I paid lip service as a nun, and later as a single woman.

But my spiritless world began to lift with my 1991 admission that I was an alcoholic, in need of the 12 Steps and daily meetings in the brownstone across the street. There, others interfaced their foibles with 12 Steps practice, often drawing guffaws from around the tables. Such stories chipped away my denial until I could identify with them. No longer was my humanness to be deplored, but I had amends to make, especially to myself.

12 Steps still burn the dross from the ongoing exploration of my humanness, crippled by decades of ill-placed thoughts and behaviors. Although I appreciate the ritual of ashes that opens the forty days of Lent, I’ve learned to live among my own ashes, in union with Higher Power. In Him alone do I find wholeness.

How I resonate with Joel, the prophet of penance: Return to me with your whole heart. Joel 2:12.

 

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