Even the daily trip home from work can be an adventure. One wintry night, I stood on a jam-packed city bus impatiently tracking its slow progress up a crammed street. We finally came in sight of the station. And there we stopped. Stuck. Inexplicably the bus glued itself in place while minutes passed. My connecting bus pulled up and started loading its passengers, just outside our doors.
“Driver, can I get out before that bus departs?”
“Can I get off this bus?”
Dismal, the trapped feeling: so close to freedom, unable to get there. I felt myself hating the driver. Rule-bound! Surely he could have done something! At least empathized, smiled, turned his head, unfolded his arms! I should report him! Meanwhile, there went the other bus, on to freedom. I churned, brows knitted, hands clenched. Unfortunately, having nowhere to go, I was stuck in my own stew.
Beside me a man said: “I’ve been going since 6 a.m. The next bus is 20 minutes away. I just want to get home to my family.” He wasn’t so much angry or complaining, only longing. My inner turmoil seemed suddenly foolish. I didn’t have the power to get off the bus, but did have power to rage futilely or . . . or what? In this case, give the young man what the driver didn’t give me — attention and human fellowship.
Because no external movement was possible, we became aware of our inner movement. Interior turmoil is rarely pleasant, but does have the value of getting our attention, and directing us within — sometimes aided by circumstances (like a stuck bus) that make it hard to escape our inner world, struggle as we might to keep out of it. Can even our modern life, crowded as it is with means of escape, totally silence the soul?
It can hide the stars. A night walk in the country unveiled an endless pageant of them, and my companions and I felt our souls expand. “I long to go out there and explore them,” one of us remarked. Daring to look up and out also encouraged us to look within, and there discover a yearning.
What is it we’re yearning for?
“The brain is as complex as the universe,” I heard a neuroscientist explain. And the soul is as vast as the universe. More vast, for — as early Christian hymns say — it holds within it the One who created the universe. Maybe that’s why we fear to go and meet it. It’s a fear that can leave us not knowing where to look: if we look up we can see him flung across the night sky; if we look down we can see him traced in the patterns of our lives and hidden in our hearts.
Are we yearning for life? For the way to God, who is everywhere?
I Am The Way, Jesus told his disciples. “I am the way,” a fellow traveller said to me, not because he thinks he is Christ, but because he knows that the way to God unfolds as we allow ourselves to come to full life. Painful, alarming, jarring, though that can be. Like birth-giving, it may feel like it’s ripping us apart, as it tears us open.
If we don’t meet ourselves, how can we meet Christ? If we meet Christ, how can we not meet ourselves?
Since the Easter dawn, we’ve been reading and hearing Gospel stories of people meeting the risen Jesus, feeling his wounds, hearing his voice, watching him eat. Perhaps we’ve been sharing with each other our own stories of encountering the risen Christ. There’s a tearing-open in the Gospel accounts, too — words like “fear” and “amazement” adorn those stories, and with good reason. The greatness of our pain, far from being a barrier to Christ, connects us with him as we learn what he suffered. Being wounded ourselves, we touch his wounds as Thomas did in one of the Gospel stories. Behind them, though, is joy, a joy that’s more than worth the pain along the way; or, the great pain is swept up into the great joy.
In another of the stories, on a grey quiet night, Peter and his companions went fishing on the Lake of Galilee — the same place where they’d first met Jesus as they went about their daily work. When the risen Jesus came among them, they caught an abundance of fish. Their work became fruitful and life-giving, even though they didn’t recognize him at first or understand it was his presence that transformed everything. Above all, it was transforming them. And that might have been most frightening of all, if it hadn’t also been most joyful.
Joy overcame fear on the 50th day, when they finally burst out of their inner chamber and poured out into the world, touching its wounds, naming its longing.
We know Good Friday. Dare we claim more? The Easter joy, the mighty wind of Pentecost?
Marrocco is a marriage and family therapist, teacher of theology, and writer, and co-ordinates St. Mary of Egypt Refuge. She can be reached at email@example.com