Two posts in one week! It must be your birthday. All of you. All of you were born today. Happy birthday!
Before I begin, I’d like to apologise for the banner ads that WordPress have so unkindly put on my site. I do not earn money from these ads. Please install Adblock (an extension for the browser Chrome) if you want to get rid of them.
Now. Official business over.
I’m posting for two reasons: (1) I am avoiding doing my homework and (2) since I last posted, God has intervened in what I can only describe as my despair.
Although I am a reformed Christian, every week at the moment I attend Catholic mass. This is because I work in a prison on Sundays, and the Christian service there is a Catholic one. I love it. I miss my own community’s Sunday services sometimes, particularly the gusto with which they sing and the intensity with which they pray (not to mention the great coffee and cake), but I spend time with my community in other ways, like at ‘home group’ – a weekly bible study with about 10 others where we eat and talk and pray.
On Sunday morning I worshiped at mass with the prisoners as usual. But for me, it was not usual at all. For me, it was a moment of profound spiritual connectedness, experienced in the humblest setting imaginable. There were a number of elements that somehow came together in a silent crescendo in my very being that both chastised and comforted me. The experience turned my heart back in the right direction. I hardly know how to put words on it. Allow me to try.
The first reading was from I Kings 17:10-16. It tells the story of Enough. A woman is afraid to share, because she has so little. In her giving, she receives enough, and plenty more. The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry. The Psalm was 146:7-10. This psalm is, simply put, a song of a thankful heart. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down. The Gospel reading was from Mark 12:38-44. Jesus suggests that his listeners to be wise about those who need to be seen to be important and successful and righteous, but to pay attention to those who, however humble, offer everything that they have, for others. Then, the prisoners’ choir sang a song that I didn’t know. It was based on Matthew 6:21: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Avid fans of Harry Potter will note that this was what was written on the graves of Harry’s dead parents, although Harry didn’t know what it meant.) And finally the sermon: it was just five minutes long and simple enough for a dull child to comprehend. The priest invited us to consider that Christ stands in solidarity with us when we suffer and, that it is in giving, not receiving, that we receive.
And the only way that I can describe how I felt through this service was “ministered to”. It was as though the world around me began speaking to the needs of my heart. It is difficult to describe a spiritual experience, but that is what it was. Every piece of scripture spoke deeply to me, girding me with truth. The songs spoke deeply to me, singing lullabies to my grumbling. The sermon pierced me in my self-pity; my “what about me” monologue. The Eucharist nourished me. And the Spirit comforted me with a kind of warmth that pushed tears up out of nowhere to tumble into a prison pew.
My dear friend Eoin asked me recently what it means to have an “identity rooted in Christ”.
It means identifying with Christ before and above and beyond anything else. Before I am a wife, I am a follower of Jesus. Before I am an Irishwoman, a feminist, a daughter, a sister and a friend, I am a follower of Jesus. It means that my worth becomes rooted in what God says about me, in what God has done for me, and not in what I can achieve. My worth is not in my job, or my size, or even my intelligence. It is not in how nice I might be, or how horrible for that matter. It is not in my “good deeds”. My worth is in and from my Creator, and that is completely liberating.
As this crescendo was bursting in my heart on Sunday morning, I was freed in a large part from my anxiety about this job, that I so wanted (and still so want). I saw with clarity that it really is okay to fail. I saw that I cannot be defined by my job, or my joblessness. My jug of oil is not going to go empty. My God lifts up those who are ‘bowed down’. I can’t join the ranks of those who wish to be successful in the eyes of others, but I’ve got to keeping giving my efforts and convictions everything that I am. And I have remembered (rightly) what my treasure is: it is the unquenchable love of my Father, and I want to live out of that reality, not of the reality that counts PRSI contributions and the age of my car. I am rich beyond measure. I not only have enough, but plenty. And I do not stand alone in suffering, at any moment, however self-indulgent that suffering might be.
And so I was ready, when I did, to get up off my knees, to go and minister to those broken-hearted prisoners, come what may.
And it is just as well that God intervened when he did, because I received the call this evening to confirm that I did not get that job.