So the group studying in the low rising, unventilated upstairs room was made up of myself, who happens to be a single dad and doctorate student and three convicted criminals, two of which will never get out of prison, and we were all four discussing the inner thoughts of a teenage nun who died of tuberculosis in 1897. Where was the common thread? How does God approach all five of us who live such different, in different places, and at different times in history?
David Young was the first drawn some common threads. He had highlighted a line in Story of a Soulthat read,
I feel that if You found a soul weaker and littler that mine, which is impossible, You would be pleased to grant it still great favors, provided it abandoned itself with total confidence to Your Infinite Mercy.
David pointed out that The Little Way, which Saint Thérèsereferred to as an elevator to God’s lap, is a way to cut through all the typical methods our culture tells us we must endure to gain access to our Creator, and it brings us directly into the presence of our God. It skirts us past what Lewis would call the “watchful dragons”who hold a death grip on God pleasing spirituality: the authors, pastors, teachers, priests, popes, clergy, whomever, that dictate to us whichever necessary steps they prefer, at any given time in Church history, for us to encounter God. But David is a fan of Saint Thérèse’s Little Way. There is no soul weaker than ours. There is no one smaller or meeker. We are tremendously broken and sinful, unable to hold our head up at all without an all merciful and powerful God approaching us, and lifting our heads for us. This mindset is one of total abandonment. This is how God should find us when he approaches. He’s not looking for an upright, do-gooder whom the watchful dragons would approve of. He’s not looking for capable, well spoken and well dressed leaders who are best qualified to represent Christianity. He is looking for the abandoned and fractured, who have nothing to offer God accept their weakness and their dependence on him.
Fredrick Watson reminded us what Saint Thérèse wrote to her Sister Marie, “The desire to be a victim is enough of itself, but one must consent to stay always poor and without strength, and that’s the difficulty…”When God approaches us, may he find nothing more than small, abandoned, and poor souls. We may want to do great things for our Redeemer, and we very well might, but it will never be because of our aptitude and can-do attitude. It will be because we realize we can do nothing and have nothing to offer him but our brokenness.
David highlighted a letter from Saint Thérèse to a lady named Celine:
My director, Jesus, does not teach me to count my acts, but to do everything for love, to refuse Him, nothing, to be pleased when he gives me a chance to prove to him that I love Him – but all this in peace, in abandonment.
Offering ourselves to God in the biggest way possible may simply be living a life of peace and abandonment, content with our brokenness and his ability to fix us one Great Day.
For any self-respecting person, this may be a tough pill to swallow. Event the quietest, most introvert among does not want to be seen as weak and powerless. This is even tougher in prison. I was sitting in the small room discussing living life as a broken soul with three people who will easily be taken advantage of if they admit a spirit of weakness in their lives. If they are seen as a pushover, their witness in prison may actually be less effective. That was the discussion anyway. We read an example of how this state of powerlessness played out in Saint Thérèse’s life:
To give up one’s cloak us, it seems to me, renouncing one’s ultimate rights; it is considering oneself as the servant and slave of others. When one has left his cloak, it is much easier to walk, to run, and Jesus adds: “And whoever forces you to go one mile, go two more with him.” Thus it is not enough to give to everyone who asks; I must anticipate their desires, appear to be very much obliged and honored to render service, and if anyone takes something which is for my use, I must not appear to be sorry about this but happy at being relieved of it.
We all agree that this was a great way to get steamrolled in prison. Yet, the command of Christ that she was referencing remains. Give up one’s cloak. Give up one’s ultimate rights to dignity and comfort. God even calls the prisoner, yes even the prison pastor, to a live a life of service towards their fellow man, even if the fellow man is a prisoner and/or an enemy. Even who we on the outside would consider the “least of these,” can open their eyes, and find the “least of these” among their ranks.
Should this be something to fear? Should the Christian inmate dread this life of meekness and going the extra mile for potential adversaries? Saint Thérèse answers,
I am not disturbed at seeing myself weakness itself. On the contrary, it is in my weakness that I glory, and I expect each day to discover new imperfections in myself. Remembering that “charity covers a multitude of sins,” I draw from this rich mine that Jesus has opened up before me.
We all agree that God, finding us small, weak, and abandoned was the most secure place one can find themselves, even in prison. We also agreed that serving others does not have to portray one as a “punk” or a, well another word I will leave out of a seminary paper. If done in the right spirit, with a firm and forceful love, explaining the heart behind the actions, the inmate can be strong, while meek before God, displaying a heart of service to their fellow inmates. We then came up with several examples of Christian inmates who excel in this area. The interesting part was, not one of my three inmate friends would dare call these gentlemen a “punk,” or the other word. Quite frankly, these inmates where celebrated for their greatness and influence on the yard. Meekness and love for their fellow man, even their fellow enemy, was already making them great in the Kingdom of God
Finding one’s self in a state of weakness and brokenness is not a state of misery to sulk in. It is a state of glory. This is how we want God to discover us. When we are so meek that we surrender our cloak upon the first ask, thereby giving up our ultimate rights as a person, when we cannot walk a mile for our enemy without walking two, this is not being a “punk.” This is standing shoulder to shoulder with Christ. We should not be afraid of our brokenness. When we find new flaws that need to be covered by the Cross, it should not be seen as a negative, but a positive, another interaction point to encounter Christ. Our mistakes, which “charity covers a multitude” of, are new reasons for us to visit the Good Doctor. They are new opportunities to fall more in love with Christ. We do not mope in our brokenness but we rejoice that we have another wound for Jesus to heal. We have another reason to cast our dependence upon him, and be joyful when we do so.