The Independent Newsweekly
|March 25, 2004||
Vol. 1, No. 50
Mary Jo Leddy is a member of the Romero House community in Toronto and the author of Radical Gratitude.
Scars from the past remain. Wounds are never completely washed away. This is not to deny the reality of healing and forgiveness. However, it does mean that forgiveness cannot be a way of denying the past; it is a way of guaranteeing that the past will not be repeated over and over again.
The wounds don't wash away
A reflection for the fifth week of Lent
By Mary Jo Leddy
In the season of Lent, we can be tempted to think of suffering, death and resurrection as episodes disconnected from one another.
Our lives are starting to resemble a television series. Episode by episode, the series "grabs" the viewers. We are familiar with the characters and the situation within which they play out their lives. Yet, the series is so constructed that we can tune into only one episode and find it meaningful, we can miss many episodes and still find it possible to get the "drift" of it. Just as there is no underlying narrative to the television series, so, too, it is more difficult for us to find the story line, the narrative structure that strings together all the various episodes of our lives.
A culture that lives on episodic meanings is one in which it becomes ever more difficult to lead consequential lives. If there is no connection between the episodes of our lives, why should it matter what we do and how we live? Episodes of meaning do not add up to direction or purpose, and they may even intensify our sense of meaninglessness and powerlessness.
In the past, the underlying structure of our lives was supplied by our culture, by our country or by religion, sometimes even by sports. The modern myth of progress carried our lives forward by the sheer force of its optimism ever since the founding of America. The mainline religions preached a biblical story that revealed the origin and the destiny of the human person. These lifelines still exist, but they no longer seem strong enough to pull us out of the cultural currents of consumerism. What we are left with are fragmentary and often colliding insights, isolated achievements and singular moments of glory and generosity.
One cultural temptation is to imagine the resurrection as a religious form of progress in which the suffering of death is left behind on the way to the brighter and better day.
Or there is the more postmodern tendency, to experience life in episodes, which can explain some of the attraction of the type of personal conversions in which being "saved" means that the past can be forgiven and forgotten. Some may call this "salvation." Others may call it " growth and development."
The temptations -- to spiritualize progress or to disconnect from suffering by treating it as an episode -- can provide disintegrating institutions with some reason for optimism.
Churches in America and elsewhere that are weighed down by the wounds of sexual abuse may be tempted to think of this time as a bad episode that will soon pass. Better times lie ahead. Time, like the detergent Tide, will wash away all wounds.
During this season of Lent, we are presented once again with the story of Jesus. It is not a modern story progressing inexorably from death to life. It is not a postmodern story of a life lived in episodes.
The story of Jesus is connected by a simple thread of meaning, a meaning of which he was sure: He knew he was from God and with God and for God. In word and deed, he preached the power of Love and Truth, and this eventually brought him into conflict with powers sustained by coercion and control.
He was wounded in that conflict. Really wounded, marked.
Even the resurrection did not wipe those wounds away. The wounds were still visible enough for even Thomas to recognize Jesus. The resurrected Christ forever carries the scars of the wounded Jesus.
And so it is with us. Scars from the past remain. Wounds are never completely washed away. This is not to deny the reality of healing and forgiveness. However, it does mean that forgiveness cannot be a way of denying the past; it is a way of guaranteeing that the past will not be repeated over and over again.
I have learned this during my years of working with refugees, who often bear great wounds in their bodies and in their spirits. They are often weighed down by thoughts that maybe they could go back to the way they were before the time of terror, or maybe they could or should just move on and be happy.
The burden lifts. The tortured one walks on, with a slight limp. Resurrection isn't always about running. Often, perhaps usually, it means limping along. But there is all the difference between limping and not walking at all. And so it is with institutions such as the church. The wounds created by sexual abuse cannot be washed away. Time will not heal all wounds. The church will never be the same as it was and it will not be able to live as though it didn't happen. What happened then is now part of the identity of the church.
Whatever resurrection might mean for the church, it will involve showing its wounds to the many who, like Thomas, doubt that the wounded and the dead can rise and walk ... even with a limp.
Editor's Note: Come back to Global Perspective next week for more of Leddy's reflections for Lent. Some of the reflections are developed further in Leddy's book Radical Gratitude(Orbis, 2002).
© 2004 The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company, 115
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