Sparks of Light
The stunning thing to me about Mother Thereasa is that all she ever did was help people die. Her and others would find people in the gutter, wounds rotting and filled with worms. They would bring them back, bathe them, feed them, and laugh with them.
We are all dying—we just have a little more time than the man in the gutter.
We get very caught up in the act of saving lives on all fronts—for others and ourselves. But really these things are nothing more than extensions of the time we have here.
We tout extended life expectancy as the measure of health. We mourn those who die young.
But really longevity should have little to do with it. Death is a welcome mercy to many.
So, saving lives is a myth—insomuch that we mean extending the length of it. But if instead we do what Mother T did—pulling people out of the gutter and giving them laughter for their remaining time, I think we are getting closer.
The world is filled with those who by physical or mental illness, or by chronic neglect or outright abandonment—will never be okay in the way we’d like them to be. They will likely they will die younger or they will suffer more greatly. The cards they are dealt have already determined a great deal of their outcome.
We tend to be arrogant about this point—that our success is the result of our individual decisions. There was a study done that exemplifies this. Two players were asked to play a game of Monopoly—but one was given extra starting money, to the degree that victory was nearly inevitable. The player with more starting money won—but time and time again still thought that it was because they had made good decisions. We are the sum of our responses to what we have been dealt. For some people that literally means that their great gift to the world is that they haven’t killed anyone. For others it means that their drinking problem was contained to a couple hours on the weekend—this was their great act of courage in their life, and the summoned all the strength they knew to accomplish that feat. And who has worked harder and moved farther: the little old lady who had a stable home and good education, who did little for others other than volunteer for a soup kitchen here or there; or the fellow who was beaten as a kid who still yelled at his children but mustered all his courage and never laid a hand on them?
For the sake of brevity, I will diminish a very significant thing and simply say—I believe Jesus is alive and active in the world. This complicates things. Perhaps even contradicts. I will offer nothing new here regarding whether or not a good God and suffering are contradictory. I have neither the humility nor the arrogance to take that on. But I do have a theory that Jesus does lift all ships—even those who don’t believe He exists. I don’t have a great desire to prove this, as if it were possible. Only to say that even in vary dark times I have not found a way to un-believe it.
This isn’t as convincing as many Christians would like me to be. But it is on all fronts a flash of honesty—and I prefer that. But if you are mildly interested in what God is doing in the world, I believe that even these dark corners of our world can receive some light, if only what little is making its way under a closed door.
Recently, I sat on our front porch with a friend who has spent more of his life on drugs than off of them. From infancy he was dealt a very poor hand. The rest of his dying life might be be swaths of pain offset by small relapses into happiness and stability.
It was an overcast early evening. Great darkness. He said, “The darkness can pour in as strong as it wants and overwhelm a space. And it’s strong. But then the tiniest spark of light dispels it all.” This is poor science but great poetry and great faith. We sat in the dark—and then a strike of lightning jerked our heads to the East. “That was a good metaphor.” he said. Then took a drag on his cigarette—nodding—and made it glow at the end.