The following meditation was offered at the Jazz service at Rocheport Christian Church, May 17, 2014:
Chris Hoke is a writer who works with inmates and gangs in Washington’s Skagit Valley and he recently shared a story about his engagement with one former gang member, Gustavo, and his family (Image, Winter/Spring 2014, No. 80, pp. 66-68).
A gang pastor and jail chaplain invited Chris to accompany him to the house of Gustavo, a former highly-tatted gang member, who was recovering from a self-inflicted wound. It seems that the drunk Gustavo, in a wild attempt to gain the attention of his oblivious father, slashed himself as he stood between his father and the television to which he was glued. The father did not receive it well and just asked him to get out of the way.
When Chris and his chaplain friend arrived Gustavo was standing with his brother out in the driveway leaning against a broken down car. With some encouragement the chaplain persuaded the bashful Gustavo to uncover the wound.
And this is what Chris Hoke wrote about that moment and how, after the bandages were off, the chaplain said they were going to pray for it:
When Gustavo carefully removed the bandage that afternoon between the cars, he held his healing scars out to me. “What do we pray?”
I put my fingers on the jagged pink lines across the soft skin of his butchered wrist. They were still tender. All I could think was, God, come into my veins.
Gustavo hesitated when I said this. Then he took a deep breath and prayed, “God, come into my veins.”
I thought of drugs, of transfusions, God, come into our bloodlines, into our severed families, into the dark gaps between our generations. Come through our new wounds, which … faith can train us to not hide. There is a crack – a crack – in everything, an old poet hummed in my mind as we prayed in the fog. That’s how the light gets in.
Chris Hoke reminds us how the cracks – the self-inflicted ones of our own making and those simply acquired through the rough and tumble of living – may provide an opening for the light to get in. Even broken skin gives witness to the broken heart that made it that way in the first place.
The Apostle Paul paints a picture of this as he draws on the clay jars of his own time – containers whose only purpose is to protect and deliver the thing of real value, their contents. The clay jar doesn’t showcase itself, but rather what it carries, even a treasure inside.
When I spent a summer on an archeological dig in Israel we literally walked on pottery shards under foot. They were the cardboard boxes of antiquity. And when they had served their purpose or were damaged they were discarded, smashed, thrown overboard.
We are, says Paul, like fragile, cracked, and flawed clay pots. What we receive and carry is a beautiful thing, precious, beyond compare.
Sometimes, when we are most resistant the light has to find its way into the darkness in peculiar ways, through the cracks in the pots, the broken places in our lives, through the membrane that separates one person from another, by breaching the walls that keep some things out and some things in.
Christians always make a big deal out of the broken bread. “This is my body,” he said, and we know that he didn’t hand off the whole bread but the broken bread. There is something about his breaking that breaks our hearts, breaks us open, and cracks the egg so it falls into the pan. And it’s at that moment we know that the way of love demands no less, a kind of brokenness to redeem the brokenness. That’s what we say happens. And more importantly we say that’s what we know happens.
In the same way that Thomas could believe after he touched the wounds of his Lord, the marks of his suffering, so we often know most we touch the scars; the scars on Jesus’ hands and feet, the scars on Gustavo’s wrist, the scars on the damaged face of the earth, the scars of our own experiences and memories of them. Somehow touching these places releases their hold on us, let’s in the light, opens our veins to let the spirit loose to prowl and renew and heal, to provide a transfusion.
All this makes us rethink our assumptions, doesn’t it? We used to say that God might accomplish things in spite of us. We know the difference between the treasure and the container of the treasure, but we also know that God uses imperfect vessels to reach out to other imperfect vessels. And contact is made because of the vessels, not only in spite of them. Sometimes it is the imperfection and brokenness that makes it possible.
What if, like Chris Hoke, we started thinking of prayer entering through the broken places, the divots rather than the manicured green, the crack in the sidewalk and the flaws that make us human? What if we began to pray through the broken vessels, petitions that gallop through the gaps become royal highways, onramps to the presence of God?
What that means is that every failure, every loss, every broken place may become a pathway for the Holy to enter and a window through which the treasure may be seen. We can say with Henri Nouwen that the “wounded healer” is used of God not in spite of those wounds but because of them.
We carry this treasure in flawed, breakable earthen vessels so that we know for certain that the power comes not from the container but the precious cargo, so that every wound becomes a place where the light gets in.