Old timer Don MacKinnon was straight from a quad-ripple heart bypass operation. He showed the young priest the staples that held the incision that covered most of his chest cavity. He was glad he could stand. That week an earthquake struck Assisi in Italy. An elementary school had been leveled and for days frantic rescue workers unsuccessfully tried to reach the kindergarteners trapped below. “Where was God?” Don asked the priest.
The priest tended to avoid easy answers. The sense of abandonment, the absence, the dull –dead space when blood rushes from the head and all is cold isolation was familiar territory. It was too easy to fill the vacuum with specious answers. For now, the priest knew, is only pain and questions. Often we try to fill that emptiness too soon
“Do you know the Twenty –third psalm?” The priest asked. “Of course,” Don said. Most all the old timers had that psalm memorized since childhood. “Say it with me”, asked the priest.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures,
He leadeth me beside the still waters, He restoreth my soul.
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness, for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil.
For thou art with me. The rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies. My cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
After a lengthy silence the priest asked, “What strikes you Don?” “…Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for thou art with me.” Don replied.
“Has there ever been a time like that for you?” the priest asked.
“During the surgery,” Don replied.
“So you already know the answer,” the priest chuckled, “Why are you asking me?”
That whole generation of the Jews since Job had refused to “blame the victim” for tragedies that were caused by nature, poor construction and the cruelty of tyrants. Suffering is not because you did something wrong, Jesus is saying. And yet here is the opportunity to reflect and “turn around”. That whole sense that time is running out which it was and always is… we don’t have that much more time to fool around with our lives. It’s time to take stock., Rather than mark time, to use the life we have left to bless the creation.
Sure we suffer and suffer greatly because we sin, We sin against ourselves, each other, the creation. We sin institutionally, and personally. Sin is broken relationship, says Tillich. All but the socio-path and psychopath have an inkling of what sin is. But that is not the point of Jesus reference to the collapse of towers or the vindictiveness of Roman tyrants. , .
The young priest might have said to Don: “Where is god? God is in the rubble. God cradles the little ones in arms of love. She takes them in her loving embrace and weeps with ones who are left behind. God in God’s vulnerability takes on the whole world of suffering, and refuses to turn away from its numbing pain and stay with us through the “valley of the shadow of death”. Why would God take away our suffering any more than God would take away her own? God’s presence with those who suffer, while not always felt, is an article of faith to me.” But that was long ago. He doesn’t remember everything he said to Don that day.
Now that March is here in the North Country, I’m going to spread lots of manure around the roots of my fruit trees. Figs don’t grow outside here.