Text: Mark 2:1-4
It was the spring of 1986. The “Rag-Tag Radicals” were up against “Paul’s Preachers.” I was on the “Rag-Tag Radicals” team. No surprise there. “Paul’s Preachers” were…well, they were exactly who their name said they were. And in case you haven’t figured this out yet, these two teams were a part of the Southeastern Seminary Spring Softball League—a co-ed league consisting of six teams of seminary students and a few professors and staff.
I was the catcher for the “Rag-Tag Radicals” and John Steely, professor of Church History and a beloved member of this church until his death on Good Friday of that same year, was the pitcher when he wasn’t playing first base. Allow me to say here that if there has ever been a second Jesus to walk the earth, it possibly was John Steely. And those of you here who knew John Steely know what I mean. Deborah or John, Jr., his daughter and son, may tell you differently but I kind of doubt it. John Steely, simply put, emanated the presence of the divine.
But let me get back to my softball game between the “Rag-Tag Radicals” and “Paul’s Preachers.” This particular game was early in the season and I was catching and Dr. Steely was pitching. My team had the field and I’m guessing we were somewhere in the 4th or 5th inning. One of the “Paul’s Preachers,” a big guy (their team had few women on it) stepped up to the plate, took a couple of warm-up swings and then stepped into the batter’s box. Now, in seminary we didn’t have proper equipment so I wasn’t wearing a face mask or chest protector. But I was, or what I thought was, a safe distance from the batter. Dr. Steely released his first pitch to the batter, the batter raised his front leg and with everything he had he swung that bat. I heard the crack as the bat hit the ball and then all of the sudden everything went black. In the far distance I could hear people saying things like, “Somebody get a towel. Put pressure on it. Who has a car nearby? We’ve got to get her to the hospital.” “Paul’s Preacher” player had done what every player knows not to do. After hitting the ball he had slung his bat and it had landed on my left temple. And because facial wounds tend to bleed profusely, everyone on that field thought I was dead.
As to what unfolded in the next moments I can only recount to you as they were told to me sometime later. But it seems that everyone on the field, both the “Rag-Tag Radicals” AND “Paul’s Preachers,” worked together to find clean towels to place on the wound. They found someone with a car nearby and team members from both teams formed a “stretcher” with their arms and carried me to the car. They laid me in the car and in a caravan, with emergency flashers on, they drove me to the hospital. And a dozen stitches later and back in my room on campus they brought me food and well wishes.
This story from the spring of 1986 is my Mark 2 story, possibly my most favorite story in the Bible. No, my friends didn’t have to climb on top of a house and dig through a roof to get me the help I needed; but they did have to interrupt their lives, share their resources, and work together to help me get the healing I needed. I would bet that everyone in this room has a Mark 2 story. Maybe you were the wounded one needing help or maybe you were the one carrying and climbing and digging to get someone else, friend or stranger, the help they needed. For me, this story links our woundedness with wonderment. From this one picture we see what we are capable of as human being when we risk helping one another find healing for our wounds—body wounds and soul wounds.
For the past three weeks, and now this week, I have been trying to give us some handles to hold on to in order to stay centered and grounded in this wounded world we are living in. I have suggested that we hold on to living with intention—living less out of habit and more from a place of making intentional choices and acts. I have encouraged us to think not only about resistance but also about learning to surrender—not the kind of surrender that is giving up or giving in but rather a spiritual surrender where we actually think about what it means to trust God in radical ways once we have done all we can do. Last week, I offered to us the handle of looking for risk—not passively waiting for God to knock us over the head with a message about where we are needed in the world now but rather actively discerning what we are being called to risk for the sake of God’s radical love.
And now, this fourth and final handle—the idea of linking wonderment and woundedness—of seeing the beauty in the beast. Or to go even deeper into our understanding of the spiritual life, to understand that it is precisely in our woundedness, individually and collectively, that we find our wonderment—the beauty of life and of this world.
Catherine of Aragon said, “None get to God but through trouble.” Our own Suzanne Newton put it this way in lectionary group this week. She said, “Only trouble is interesting.” This I know: we are living in troubled times. Some would say we have always lived in troubled times. And I say to those people: yes, but these troubled times are our troubled times. And these troubled times are creating deep wounds to the soul of our nation and to the souls and bodies of individuals. We have a president who chose this week to continue to institutionalize racism by pardoning a sheriff that treated human beings inhumanly simply because of their race and nationality. We are a wounded and wounding world. We live in a country where transgender people are being told they cannot serve their country in the military if they desire to live authentically as God created them. We are a wounded and wounding world. We are daily throwing salt on the still open wounds created by white supremacy. We are still heaping wounds upon wounds to our Native American brothers and sisters by continuing to take their land for our convenience. We are a wounded and wounding world.
If Catherine of Aragon is right and “none get to God but through trouble” then we should have reached God long ago, and definitely in the last eight months. As we discussed our troubled and wounded world and pondered the link between woundedness and wonderment in lectionary this week, one participant noted that “the Jesus narrative is about looking for the darkness/the woundedness and going toward it and into it and then bringing out the light/the wonderment.”
What I am saying is this: the beast—our woundedness—leads us to the beauty—our wonderment. And when we can go toward our woundedness and go with others toward theirs it is then and only then that we can begin to heal our wounds, individually and collectively, and then emerge out of the darkness with a sense of wonderment—that awed admiration and respect for one another and for our differences.
For the last several months I have been repeating a mantra over and over as each day reveals more of our human woundedness. The mantra goes like this:
Now is not the time to despair.
See the beauty in the beast.
Where do I see the beauty in the beast? Where do I see wonderment in all of our woundedness? I see it in people who are carrying those wounded by racism and are climbing to the tops of roofs made of racism and digging through those roofs to lower the wounded to places of healing. I see it in people who are carrying those wounded by homophobia, climbing to the tops of roofs made of xenophobia and digging through those roofs to lower our trans brothers and sister to places of safety and healing. I see the wonderment/the light/the beauty in the communities forming to carry those wounded by race and status and religion, climbing to the tops of roofs made of greed and power and privilege and righteous religious indignation and digging through those roofs to lower all our sisters and brothers into places of safety and healing.
There is a corollary to this concept of wonder and woundedness in Zen Buddhism. The Zen proverb says that the obstacle is the path. In this teaching, we learn that the obstacle isn’t just something to be overcome, to be surmounted, to be viewed as a diversion from our real work or our real path. Rather, the teaching says that the obstacle becomes the way. It is in dealing with the obstacle – our attention, our intention, our effort, our faith – through all of these we find a new path. This is not an easy teaching. For me, it raises so many questions. Does this mean the obstacle itself deserves our blessing? I can’t fathom that – I can’t bless the hatred and exclusion and pain that is our current obstacle. But I can believe that the moment created by these obstacles can be sacred. That our response to the obstacle can be honest and loving and kind, even when the obstacle is closed and duplicitous and mean-spirited. I can believe that in response to these obstacles we find one another and form a collective wonderment that has the power to heal.
When I think back to the Spring of 1986 and on my own Mark 2 story I am keenly aware that it was when two opposing sides formed and became community together that the wounded was carried and lowered to a place of healing. The truth is, those guys who made up the team “Paul’s Preachers” were not just the guys on the opposing softball team—they were the guys who didn’t think I should even be in seminary. A woman. A lesbian. No, in their minds and in their theology I had no place there. And yet, what my story and the Mark 2 story tells me is that when we can see each other’s woundedness and then respond from that place, we find the beauty and wonderment that has the power to heal.
As difficult and troubling as they are, these moments in which we are living are sacred moments. The obstacles are humanity’s pain and insecurity and darkness. But the relationships and communities being formed to remove the obstacles—the climbing and digging and lowering—are the wonderment and the beauty.
Now is not the time to despair.
See the beauty in the beast.
Live with intention. Learn to surrender. Look for the risk to take for God’s radical love. And link your woundedness with wonderment. Live a centered life in this splintered world.