Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Holy Crap: A Post Chiefly About Poop

This morning, as is I my habit, I awoke and made my way to the chapel for morning prayer. On the way there I paused at the chowhall to mix myself a bottle of instant coffee. Yes, it is quite as disgusting as it sounds, but I had a reason for it. I usually do not stoop to such depths of degradation, however, today I was planning a run down to the river (not, alas, to pray and study about that good old way, but merely to turn around and come back. At least I did not stay to live down there in a van... but I digress.)

Now, the run route leads through a local village for a mile and a half, and then into the jungle for a about half a mile, but even in the jungle there are several little bamboo huts with people living in them. With this information, the discerning reader will readily see why it would behoove the early morning runner to take care of business (from a solid waste perspective) prior to embarking on this run. It has been my experience in most Asian countries that defecation tends to be an all or nothing proposition. I do not react as violently to the local food as most white people do (not racist, just saying) but still, when it is time IT IS TIME!

Accordingly it becomes necessary, when a run is planned, to attempt to coordinate the morning poop for sometime before the run. Just my luck to have it hit in the middle of the village, a mile and a half from a civilized toilet. Not that I would not use the local facilities. I have before. However, that would certainly be disruptive to the locals' routine, and I try to avoid being disruptive.

Well, about two minutes into my chapel time, the criminally dreadful instant coffee accomplished the end for which it was consumed. There are, unfortunately, no bathroom facilities in that chapel, so I began my morning fitness routine with a record setting 400 meter clench-and-waddle, and finished morning prayer and the office of readings in my room. As I was making for the only refuge available to me at the fastest pace I could safely maintain, this clever little couplet introduced itself into my brain and danced around and around in high glee at my predicament:

"Even your morning poop can be poetic
If you start your day with a diarrhetic!" 

The Office of Readings today consisted of Ecclesiastes (yeah!) 5:9-6:8 which is cleverly summed up in the one line, "The Vanity of Riches!" The first responsorial is:

"Keep falsehood and lying far from me, O Lord
  --Give me neither poverty nor riches, provide me only with the food I need
I have put my trust in you, O Lord; my destiny is in your hands.
  --Give me neither poverty nor riches, provide me only with the food I need." 
(Proverbs 30:8, Psalm 31:15)

My brain immediately inserted that quote from Hello Dolly: "Money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It ain't worth a thing unless it's spread around, encouraging young things to grow."

My brain then asserted that human manure was definitely not appropriate for that function. Of course Victor Hugo, in his book Les Miserables, in the chapter in which Jon Valjean escapes through the sewers, digresses for a good chapter or two on the benefits of human manure as a fertilizer for crops and laments the financial waste that was the sewers of Paris. I particularly remember him vehemently
asserting that gold is lost to the agriculture of France "with every cough of our cloaca." Victor Hugo, however, was not aware of the serious health risks of using night soil as a fertilizer, (i.e. Chinese liver flukes, cholera, and any number of other fecal contaminants, which are a constant concern when buying produce in many rural Asian countries. But I digress.

So according to both Solomon and Dolly Levi, riches are basically crap and hording them makes about as much sense as hording big steaming piles of $#!+. Of course, I have hoarded big steaming piles of manure before. My family could never have been accused of hoarding money. Indeed, my father's pay check was purely theoretical money. It was always budgeted, allocated and spent before it even hit the bank. Poop we did collect, though. I remember the twice annual manure spreading that we used to do on the farm, in which we would load 4-8 months (depending on whether it was spring or fall) worth of manure from the manure barn onto spreaders and take them out and spread them all over the fields. I never minded the smell. It was a strong smell, but not a bad one. It smelled of fecundity, richness, and all the potential for life and green growing things, that was secreted (and excreted) by its myriad marvelous microbes with their curious chemical conversions. Have the humility to find humorous the humble, rich black humus deposited under a pile of manure after a year of the action of such benevolent bugs. (Humus is not the same as hummus, but I suppose if you were to feed your livestock on hummus for a year, then hummus could become humus. And then if you grew garbanzo beans in the humus, mashed them up into a paste, and flavored them with basil and sun dried tomatoes you might make some very excellent hummus from the humus.)

Money is more or less the same. It can be hoarded for a time, to be spread later, but spread it must be or else it becomes a terrible waste, and it stinks.

As I think back, I inherently grasped this principle when I was a child. I felt like poop ought to be spread, and some of my siblings even invented the art form known as the "fecal mural." Alas, as with most avant garde artistes, our visionary methods were ridiculed, discouraged, and even actively suppressed by the staid, stuffy establishment.

I have never minded poop. I have even written before, in my book for guys, about the necessity of changing diapers for a full growth in humanity. There is something about taking care of such an aspect of human nature that really encourages a beautiful, cheerful humility without which there is no true humanity.

As my morning prayer came to a close and I prepared for my run, I couldn't help but reflect with some ruefulness, almost apologetically to God, on the slight oddity of my meditations for the day. On the other hand, I felt like God replied, these meditations are no odder than His own original move, which was to stick a spiritual (and therefore meditative) soul into a physical (and therefore defecative) body. As surprising as these thoughts might be to me, they are not to Him. If anything, He is amused by my amusement. I suppose that's a good thing.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Passus Est

I remember when I was a teenager, singing in the choir at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Verona, NY. We were one of the few choirs in the area that sang in Latin, thanks to Fr. Morelle's reverence for the beauty of the Latin liturgy and the old sacred music.

(Incidentally, Fr. Morelle perfectly modeled for me the proper attitude towards the Latin Mass. While he personally loved the extraordinary form, he never entertained any nonsense about the novus ordo being "invalid" or incapable of reverent, beautiful celebration. When asked about it he simply said that he obeyed his bishop, and celebrated as reverently as he could the form he was given. Perhaps this is why I have never understood the tension between the advocates of the two forms in some Catholic circles. But I digress.)

At any rate, I had enough Latin in school to have a solid grasp of the roots of the words, enough, at any rate, to be able to translate the parts of the Mass into English as we sang them. After years of singing them, eventually I no longer needed to translate them. Instead I sang them, thought, heard them, and prayed them in the Church Latin. Perhaps my love affair with words and language of all kind aided in this.

All this by way of trying to explain the impact of the phrase "passus est" from the Credo. The extended phrase was "Crucifixus etiam pro nobis, sub Pontio Pilato, passus et sepultus est." This is translated, "Crucified also for us, under Pontius Pilate, (he) suffered and buried was."

To me the impact of the word "passus" was mind blowing. Taken in the same vein as my last post, it is even heart-shattering. Passus!

We translate the word as "to suffer," but the translation loses something. Suffering tends to be an active verb, in English. "I suffer from delusions of erudition." "You suffer from boredom." "He she or it suffers me gladly to be a fool." "Passus" however, has a passive connotation. The word "passive" comes from the same root. When I hear, "passus est" I do not hear something that Christ did, but something that was done to Him.

This is phenomenal! Christ is God! I take it from basic theology 101 that God is the primum mobile, the uncaused cause, the mover of all things. He is all action, actor, doing, being. It is His nature to be. He initiates, we respond. He acts, we are acted upon. He gives, we receive. I have had this truth fixed into my brain from my youth. I almost take it for granted.

And yet, "passus est!" We do not have a direct translation, since I cannot think of an English verb which could be the passive of "to suffer". He was made to suffer. He was wounded. He was beaten. He was despised. He was rejected. All of these happened to Him. He was not acting. He was allowing His creatures to act upon Him. He let us do whatever we wanted to Him. He was passive. He allowed all these things to happen to Him.

The CREATOR BECAME A CREATURE, PEOPLE!!! How is it possible for anything to be the same ever again?

I may be going over old ground here. Very often I come upon (to me) startling new insights only to find that everyone else has been taking them for granted for a very long time. Of course, God came down to earth and suffered. It is just that the concept, the reality, of the incarnation is so truly mindblowing that whenever I am refocused on it it reshapes something in me.

Shusaku Endo got this, I think. His novel "Silence" asks hard questions about the nature of a God who is silence in the face of so much suffering. Only the cross makes sense of it. The power and silence of a God "somewhere out there" is of no help or comfort to the Catholic's being tortured in 16th century Japan. The only possible answer lies in the vulnerability of the God who became a creature, and became helpless.

Jesus on the cross. He appears so vulnerable (even the word "vulnerable" comes from the Latin "vulnerus" meaning to be wounded.) He hangs there passively allowing, suffering, His creatures to do unto Him whatever they want, whether we want to kill Him, or spit on Him, or worship Him, or love Him. Amazing! God be praised. But in the End He not only suffers the death to happen to Him, but actively embraces it and gives up His spirit.

Blessed be He!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Be Not Afraid

Today, while saying midday prayer in the Divine Office, this verse caught my attention:
Jesus was seized with fear and distress (Mark 14:33)

It was not one of the antiphons, it wasn't part of the psalms, or even part of the reading. It was one of the little "aside" verses that they put at the beginning of some of the psalms, as kind of a guide to meditation, or a suggestion. I confess I usually don't pay too much attention to them. This one, however, seemed to smack me upside the head with the image of Jesus being seized with fear and distress. 
I did not look up the context, as I already knew where it came from. This was the garden of Gethsemane. I am used to the translation, "He began to be saddened and exceedingly troubled." The unfamiliar translation is a good thing. It causes words familiar to me from literally hundreds of hearings and readings to reach me in new ways, and to say new things. 

What hit me now was an image. I cannot describe it visually. It was more of a startled realization, "Jesus? Afraid?!" It was a feeling of utter shock and dismay. I know what fear is. I have faced fear in many different shapes and forms, and in some ways I have been afraid all my life. It comes of having an overactive imagination, and a conscience. Fear is inescapable. I have learned that fear is less important than what I do with it, but I assume that I feel fear because I am imperfect. When I am perfect I will no longer feel fear. After all, "Perfect love casts out all fear." 

But here is Jesus, my hero, (I almost said, "my idol" except that that is the one thing He could not be) afraid. HE! The God/Man. The conqueror of death and sin! He cannot be afraid. I have thought of Him being saddened, in pain, in agony, but never afraid. Pain is one thing. Even the most intense pain ever is not half as bad as the fear of that pain. I don't know why I never thought of Jesus being afraid. I guess I assumed that because He knew how it was going to turn out, He already knew what He had to do, and knew that He would endure, knew that He would rise, fear would be out of the question. It is uncertainty, the weakness of the flesh that lacks trust and confidence that shrinks back in fear. That is why fear is so toxic, and so much worse than pain. Any amount of pain can be endured so long as you have hope. Fear, however, crushes the spirit because it attacks hope. I just could not conceive of Jesus being afraid. 

And my first thought was, "What would Socrates say?"

Socrates, like Jesus, was persecuted and ultimately killed for preaching a truth that those in authority did not want to hear. Like Jesus, Socrates could have escaped and chose not to. Unlike Jesus, Socrates showed no fear in the face of death. Of course his death was a lot less painful and horrific. He drank some hemlock and fell asleep, instead of being tortured to death. 

But there was more here than that. Socrates insisted that death could not be an evil to a just man, and died in a manner that proved the conviction of his words. Jesus was a perfect man, and yet He sweat blood in fear and distress, and prayed that the cup be taken away from Him.

This is important to me. Perhaps this is part of why Socrates has only ever been an inspiration to the elite few, the intellectuals with a strong sense of discipline and trust in their own natural righteousness. He appeals to the strong, old pagan sense of courage which insists that, whether or not man can achieve justice by his own efforts, he is honor bound to make the effort. 

Jesus appeals to the weak, the pathetic, the crushed, the downtrodden. He is the friend that I have turned to in all of my fears, uncertainties, and doubts, because I thought that He would be able to help me through them. After all, there is no fear in Him, right?

But if He truly was afraid, as I realize now He must have been, then I was wrong. (I wonder if maybe He truly can be an idol after all? Not Him, but my idea of Him?) It is not His fearlessness that aids me in my moments of fear, but His fearfulness. Which reveals how He chooses to help, not by removing the fear, but by joining me in the fear. He embraces it so intimately that our pain wounds Him more deeply than it wounds ourselves. No matter how deep into hopelessness we go, He has gone deeper, and He is waiting there to embrace us. He brings love into the depths of blackness, loneliness and despair, and as deep as the pit goes, His love will go deeper still.

Perfect love does cast out fear, because only perfect love is strong enough to embrace it and become one with it, and so rob it of its power.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Pied Beauty

One of my favorite poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, the Jesuit priest and poet.

Monday, February 17, 2014

For the kids of Smoke Tree Elementary School, 5th and 6th grade

I just want to thank you all for the wonderful packet of handmaid cards and letters that you all sent me for my birthday. I enjoyed them a great deal. I sat on my bunk and read them all through and said a prayer for each and every one of you, and your teachers.

I have some good internet at the moment, so I thought I would share some pictures and stories about the Philippines for you guys.
First off, if you don't know where the Philippines are, you should start there.

On the map you first find Asia, then you move southeast of Asia into the Pacific ocean, and in the middle of the Pacific ocean you will find a group of islands that look like this:
For security reasons I can't really tell you guys where I am in the Philippines, but I can show you some pictures I took.
I like sunsets. They look different in all the different countries I have been to. Actually, believe it or not, Iraq and Afghanistan had some of the most amazing sunsets I have ever seen, because of the high dust content in the air. I saw similar sunsets sometimes in New Mexico. Why do you think dusty air makes great sunsets?
This is a statue of Lapu-Lapu (yes, that is really his name, one of many names, in fact) who was a tribal king on an island called Mactan who commanded the local warriors in a battle on April 27, 1521. Ferdinand Magellan was killed in that battle. It did not prevent the Spanish from taking over the Philippines, but hundreds of years later Lapu-Lapu is regarded as the first Filipino national hero.
This dish is called "lechon," and it is delicious. The pig is stuffed with coconut leaves and all sorts of veggies and herbs I would not be able to name. It is then roasted slowly in an oven with the skin still on it. It is quite fatty, fully of cholesterol, protein, and other delicious things that growing soldiers require.
This dish is called "a tuna fish." That particular fish is approximately a meter and a half long, and weighs about 50 kilograms. There is an art to carving the fish like that. They slice it deep with a very thin, sharp knife in lengthwise slices, then again, parallel to the spine, and then perpendicular to the body, to create hundreds of little slices, each one about half an ounce in size. Then you eat it, raw, with chopsticks. I probably at about a kilo of it myself.
I took this picture while snorkeling in the ocean.
And this one. The clownfish likes to live inside the anemone, which has tons of stinging fronds that wave in the current. They don't bother the clownfish, but they sting any bigger fish that try to eat it. This is a symbiotic relationship.
What does the shape of this mountain tell you about how the islands were formed?
That's me.
These little motorbike taxis are one of the primary means of transportation in most of the cities.
This field is about 300 acres of rice. Rice is one of the most important foods in the world. It makes up 90% of the grain diet of many countries in Asia. It needs to be completely submerged in water for part of its growing cycle, so it is grown only on flat plots of ground. However, in the volcanic hills of southern Mindanao, and in the Himalayas in Nepal, I have seen rice grown on the sides of steep hills and mountains. They overcome the terrain by carving levels of terraces out of the side of the mountain like giant steps going up the mountain.
This picture is from Nepal, not the Philippines, but it shows how people grow rice and other crops on hillsides. All of those terraces were dug by hand with crude shovels. And you thought cleaning out your room was a tough chore!

The amazing thing about rice is that it is still planted by hand throughout much of the world! The fields (called "rice paddies") are flooded with muddy water, and then workers walk through the fields, painstakingly sticking shoots of rice into the mud, one at a time. It is a labor intensive, time consuming process. A lot of countries use migrant workers, including children your age, to do this work, paying them 50 pesos ($1.10) per day. It takes hundreds and hundreds of workers to plant fields this size.

 Baskets at a market, made out of palm fronds and bamboo leaves.
A market at a "Peace Village" promoting cultural sharing between Muslims and Christians. Most people do not know this, but there is a Muslim insurgency going on in the Philippines, but unlike other places in the world, there are strong peace processes in the works, and some legitimate reconciliation does seem to be happening.

Traditional wooden dishes, palm baskets, and work knives, with a couple of traditional swords.
This is what the mountains look like from the air. They are not very tall, compared to the Rockies or the Himalayas, but they are extremely steep and covered with jungle. They are left over from the volcanic activities that formed the islands. They are also beautiful!

I hope you enjoyed all the pictures. Thank you so much for the cards and the letters. Be good in school.

Yours Truly,

Ryan Kraeger

Friday, February 14, 2014

White People Be Crazy

After Mass this morning I went for a run. There was something ironic about that fact, in and of itself, at least to my mind. The priest who said Mass was a short, heavy Filipino man with a crutch and a cane. He walked as if his left knee had been fused, or maybe his left leg was a prosthetic, and he had a large, heavy gut, and a cheerful, pleasant smile. I watched him laboriously make his way down the steps behind the church from the rectory, and then process down the aisle, step, thump, peg, step, thump, peg, step, thump, peg.

Now I have a chronic case of what my younger brother calls, "Lone Survivor Guilt," meaning if I see someone else worse off than I am in any way, I immediately feel bad that I have what they do not. I immediately and irrationally felt bad for having two good legs. God is patient with me though, and through the course of the Mass He slowly drew me instead to thankfulness of the courage and determination that made that man climb steps and walk up aisles and do other things that I take completely for granted, to bring me the Holy Sacrifice. To reproach myself for what I feel like I am not doing is to make it all about me. To thank God for what he is doing, is to make it all about God. One leads to depression, selfishness, fear, and lack of confidence. The other leads to peace, joy, gratefulness and trust.

So I went for a run after Mass, as I had planned. I was much slower than I would like to be, and I ran a hot spot into the crease of each big toe, which I am happy for, since I can offer it up for people who don't have feet! Is it anything on the same or equivalent level to their sufferings? No. It is what God has given me, though.

On the way back I ran past this guy:

 The sign painted on the back of his garbage cart caught my eye. When I asked him if I could take a picture of it he smiled at me with a big, peaceful smile, like: "This crazy white guy!"
"Thank you Lord God for the life & grace, the love & peace, the health & strength, THE NAME of Our Lord Jesus."
Sometimes God gets obvious.

After my run I did some yoga in the hotel gym. There were some other guests there, including one middle aged gentleman trying to get a workout, but his little girl kept running in from the pool to talk to him. She was staring at me like I was the circus!

I can understand that, though. I am big, very hairy, and when I workout I am very sweaty. I am not particularly flexible or coordinated, although not bad for my size. All in all, I look pretty odd doing yoga. When I do yoga in white people gyms I always kick the heavy bag a few times afterwards as a way of forestalling any comments.

This little girl was watching me like saturday morning cartoons and talking with her daddy in Visayas. I imagine the conversation was something like, "Daddy, look at the big sweaty white guy! What is he doing?"

"I don't know, honey. White people be crazy."

God bless you all, this fine day. Remember to be grateful.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Everyday Prayer

I sing from a poetic soul, there is no such thing as a pathetic role. A gift from God, I nod and lift my prayer from where I stand, gleaning grand meaning from cleaning my kitchen. What need of bitching and whining? I am freed! My creed is twining to heaven in warm surprising smell of leavening, rising well formed doughs. My nose preaches and teaches my part in the psalm to my heart. Without a qualm I count my rosary on grocery lists and chubby, grubby fists. My holy water fount tossed across the floor by my toddler, waddling to gaze up at crazy me with big, wilting, guilty eyes over the half-spilled mop bucket. Sigh. I chuck it out the door to bless the weeds and address the mess on the floor and the wild needs of my child. Somehow content (at least for the moment) this seriously proves God moves in mysterious ways through my days.
Praise Him!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Seeing God Now

I went to confession today. The sacrament of confession has been a blessing in my life that I cannot even begin to describe, so I will not try. I try to go regularly, but sometimes it isn't easy, even in the Philippines. The parish on my post, for whatever reason, does not have regularly scheduled confessions. In other parishes they have confessions scheduled five days a week, but I cannot always get there. Today, however, I was able to get out for confession.

Now, on the schedule it said that confessions started at 2:00 PM. I was planning on seeing a movie with the guys, which I remembered from seeing on the billboard the day prior, started at 3:00. Accordingly I arrived early, so as to be the first in line. I was early enough to make a short visit in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel before getting into where I assumed the line would form. I was 15 minutes early, a respectable time.

The priest was not 15 minutes early. He was not early at all. He was, in fact, on what Americans lovingly refer to as "Island Time," which means that you show up, you know, meh... whenever. As time ticked by I said a rosary, and still no priest showed up. Other people came and got in a sort of line behind me, and still no priest showed up. I, being the only white guy in church, also appeared to be the only one at all perturbed by this.

While I was waiting in line I was reading "The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything," by James Martin, SJ. The chapter I was reading was called, "Surrendering to the Future," in which he talks about the Jesuit vow of obedience and what it means to be obedient to God's will in day-to-day life. He quoted from a Jesuit named Walter Ciszek:

"The plain and simple truth is that His will is what He actually wills to send us each day, in the way of circumstances, places, people and problems. The trick is to learn to see that... Each of us has no need to wonder about what God's will must be for us; His will for us is clearly revealed in every situation of every day, if only we could learn to view all things as he sees them and sends them to us."

Of course! God's will in the moment! I get it, so this late confession thing is like a test? Right. I got this. I immediately set myself to surrendering my impatience. Cool beans! I surrendered the heck out of it!

Then when my buddy M texted to ask about the movie, I told him it was at 3:00 (he had thought it was 3:30) and I replied I probably wouldn't be able to make it to the movie. I was stuck in confession line. So I wouldn't get to hang out with the guys? I wasn't looking forward to being stuck in the hotel room by myself, or going to see a movie by myself later if I still even wanted to see it, but God's will. Surrender. Got it.

Finally the priest arrived at 2:38. I was out of the church at 2:48 thinking I might just have time to
catch a trike cab to the theater by 3:00. (Trike cabs are the primary transport around here. The small ones are basically a small motorcycle with a covered side car. The large ones are a medium motorcycle with a frame welded around them with a passenger compartment to the right and behind the motorcycle.)

Unfortunately, all the trikes waiting outside the church were the little kind. When I told them I wanted to go to the mall they shook their head and replied in Cebuano, which I do not speak. Something about too small, which I thought was a reference to my size, but I saw an identical trike carrying three Filipinos. No matter how small they are, three of them are bigger than one of me.

Eventually I figured it must be illegal for them to drive on the highway, since I only ever see the big ones on the highway outside our hotel. These guys were little trike drivers, but they cheerfully spent ten minutes trying to flag me down a big trike. When that was to no avail, they suggested I walk back to the corner and try to get one from the other road.

So I headed back to the corner, and then when no trikes would stop there I kept walking. No point in bothering about the movie now. It looked like God wanted me to have some alone time. Maybe I would do some more reading? Maybe journal for a bit? Spend some time in prayer?

Eventually I got picked up an made it back to the hotel so I didn't have to walk the two miles. Which, two miles is nothing, but I was still glad to get a ride. I walked into the library, still trying to accept God's will being me spending the rest of the afternoon by myself. In the elevator I accidentally pressed the 3rd floor button instead of the fifth floor button. That was a slight irritation, because it's an old fashioned elevator and you cannot cancel a floor by pressing the button again, and it takes a long time to slow down and start back up again.

Then the door opened at the third floor and my buddy H was standing there. He stepped into the elevator, and then looked at the number 5 and then at me. "Wait, are you going up?"

"Yep. Are you going down?"

"Yeah. Are you going to the movie?"

"I am pretty sure it started at 3:00."

"M is pretty sure it's at 3:30. That's where I am going now, down to his room. Are you going to come."

"Sure, let me drop off my book and I will meet you down there."

And so it was that all of the delays and frustrations and accidentally pressed wrong buttons served to put me in the exact right place at the right time to meet up with H in the elevator. And it turned out the movie was at 3:40.

God is sometimes obscure, or maybe I am obtuse. I can sometimes see Him in hindsight, but only rarely in the moment. But that was so obvious even I couldn't miss it. He was saying, "I care about everything, even the smallest details. You can trust me with your life."

Monday, February 3, 2014

Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me

I saw a quote today from St. John Bosco (allegedly, one can never be 100% certain with these facebook things) that said, “It is not enough to love the children, it is necessary that they are aware that they are loved.”

On the same day I read this quote from Sr. Faustina:
“God's mercy sometimes touches the sinner at the last moment in a wondrous and mysterious way. Outwardly, it seems as if everything were lost, but it is not so. The soul, illumined by a ray of God's powerful, final grace, turns to God in the last moment with such a power of love that, in an instant, it receives from God forgiveness of sins and punishment, while outwardly it shows no signs either of repentance or contrition, because souls [at that stage] no longer react to external things. Oh, how beyond comprehension is God's mercy! (Diary, 1698).”

At the same time I was reading the book, “Not For Sale,” by David Batstone on one of my lifelong obsessions, the protection and care of abused, exploited or neglected children. Many of the activists, or abolitionists as he prefers to call them, emphasized the primary need of these children being the need to be loved.

It is a pattern that I have noticed in my life, that sometimes a number of different sources will all speak to me about the same thing at the same time. I try to pay attention to such things. The skeptic in me assumes that on some subconscious level I am looking for connections, and creating significance from random events. The man of faith in there somewhere likes to think that God is trying to speak to me.

(Oh, and Matthew 18:1-14 was emailed to me by my "Gospels in a year" subscription.)
There is a deep connection between the three sources above, which speaks to me very deep within my heart. There is a passage from 1 John 4:20 which I am fond of “misquoting.” The verse reads “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” I often misquote it saying, “How can anyone believe in the love of the God whom they have not seen if they have never known the love of the brother they can see.”

You see, I often think about all the children who will never know love. Most of them will probably end up dead, or as petty criminals, or perhaps not so petty. One has to wonder how much love was known in the Bin Laden or Hussein households, or the Stalin or Hitler households when those infamous men were growing up. I think also of the men who are not criminals, but who nevertheless take part in the subjugation, mutilation or sexual exploitation of women out of sheer ignorance. That is what they saw their fathers doing, that is all they know about manhood.

This is not a statement or even a speculation about their subjective guilt. On this level guilt or innocence is not of very much concern to me. My cousin and I were talking about C. S. Lewis the other day and he mentioned the hope that C. S. Lewis died in perfect intellectual honesty about his faith, given that he chose not to become Catholic. I countered that whether or not his intellectual honesty was perfect he died in need of mercy as we all will. The same is true of rapists, murderers, dictators and abusers. There is no human being who does not need mercy, and there is no person to whom mercy will not be offered at the moment of death. The question is whether or not we will be able to recognize and accept it.

Love can be a frightening thing. Even those who know what love is and have experienced it can very easily come to fear love, to feel unworthy of it, to become so caught up in their unworthiness that they refuse love, run away from it, deny it when it is offered. The technical word for that state of mind is “despair,” and a little imagination reveals it as not too far removed from pride.

Now imagine a terrible sinner, a crack whore who has been selling her body for drugs, who has aborted several of her own children and witnessed others of her children spiral into the same black pit she has lived in, raped and pimped by her boyfriends, starving, addicted, despairing, worse than dead. Lest you think that I am engaging in sensationalism, I am not. I am describing women that I have seen and treated, that my fiancée has seen and treated, and if you live in any major city in America I am describing your neighbor who lives within a few miles of you. I could as easily have described Pol Pot or St. Augustine or myself for all the difference it would have made.

This woman will die someday. In the moment of her death she will see God, and be exposed to pure, unadulterated love. As much as she may have loathed herself before, she will immediately see her sinfulness in all its ugliness, and if I may trust my own inclination, she will likely be overwhelmed with sorrow. The next question will be what she does with that sorrow. Will she recognize unconditional love and accept it, allow it to wash her clean, embrace it, even rejoice in her cleansing?

Will I be able to rejoice in my own shame, simply for the sake of the glory of God, for the opportunity it provides for Him to show His mercy?

I think that transition will be easier for those who have seen love. A few days ago in prayer with my fiancée (via video chat, which is an experience in and of itself) we prayed for those children who have never known love, that they would be shown enough love in their lives so that at the very end when God shows Himself they will recognize love. It will not be a total shock.

I suppose that is the whole purpose of human love.

What I did not realize until writing this last sentence is that in doing so we accomplished on some level what we were praying for. We loved them. I doubt they know that now, or knew it at the moment of our prayer (although you never know) but someday I have faith that they will know that they were loved even when they didn’t know it.