(Not sure it's actually done, but for this time of night, will have to do...)
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”
There is a man named Jean Vanier who had a promising career in the British navy, and then after earning a doctorate in moral philosophy, a promising career as a professor…in 1964 felt called to invite two men with Down’s Syndrome to leave a mental institution and live with him. That simple act in 1964 grew into the L’Arche communities—homes which bear witness to the reality that persons with intellectual disabilities possess inherent qualities of welcome, wonderment, spirituality, and friendship. In the early 90’s, Vanier presented a series of lectures at Harvard, that were collected in a little book From Brokenness to Community. In it he tells of his experiences living in the L’Arche community.
“Our people are close to God,” he writes, “and yet they are so little and so poor. They have known rejection and have suffered a great deal. I am always moved as I hear them speak of Jesus. When somebody asked one of our men, Peter, if he liked to pray, he said that he did. So the person continued and asked him what he did when he prayed. He replied: “I listen.” Then the person asked what god says to him. Peter, a man with Down’s Syndrome, looked up and said: ‘he just says, ‘you are my beloved son.’”
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
A story like that makes us smile—makes us catch our breath with its preciousness…but is it possible it makes us smile, because we want to hide what makes us uncomfortable. What we want to hide is not just the pain and brokenness in Peter, but the pain and brokenness in ourselves.
Because although it’s so difficult to admit, we are just as broken as Peter is. We’re just a whole lot better at hiding it; so we bring out the make-up to cover up the blemishes, or the spanx to hide the jiggle. We buy a little bit nicer car to hide the fact we’re really swimming in debt; or overlook the neglect from our spouse because we don’t think we deserve better. We become angry and bitter and sad and lonely because it’s easier than opening up our hearts just one more time. You know it…even if you hate to admit it. You can try and hide it, but deep inside you know, you cannot do it alone…you’ve tried and time and time again you come up short…and time and time again you look in the mirror and see what you long to hide…you are indeed broken and hurting and are simply not sure what else you can do.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Another story. “Eight-year-old Armando cannot walk or talk and is very small for his age. He came to us from an orphanage where we had been abandoned. He no longer wanted to eat because he no longer wanted to live cast off from his mother. He was desperately thin and was dying of lack of food. After awhile in our community where he found people who held him, loved him, and wanted him to live, he gradually began to eat again to develop in a remarkable way. He still cannot walk or talk or eat by himself, his body is twisted and broken, and he has a severe mental disability, but when you pick him up, his eyes and his whole body quiver with joy and excitement and say ‘I love you.’ He has a deep therapeutic influence on people.
One day I asked one of the Catholic bishops from Rome if he wanted to hold Armando in his arms. He did. I watched the two of them together as Armando settled in his amrs and started to quiver and smile, his little eyes shining. A half hour later I came to see if the bishop wanted me to take back Armando. “No,” he replied, “no.” I could see that Armando in all his littleness, but with all the power of love in his heart was touching and changing the heart of that bishop…was penetrating his barriers…In some mysterious way, in all his brokenness, Armando reveals to us our own brokenness, our difficulties in loving, our barriers and hardness of heart. If he is so broken and so hurt and yet is still such a source of life, then I too am allowed to look at my own brokenness and to trust that I too can give life to others. I do not have to pretend that I am better than others and that I have to win in all the competitions. It’s OK to by myself, just as I am, in my uniqueness. That of course, is a very healing and liberating experience. I am allowed to be myself, with all my psychological and physical wounds, with all my limitations but with all my gifts too. And I can trust that I am loved just as I am, and that I too can love and give life and hope.”
“Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.”
What if what it takes to see God, is to realize that you indeed are not God? That you are hidden-ly broken, in all the ways Peter and Armando are visibly broken? What if in holding Armando in your arms, you see yourself…and realize that as you cradle him, God cradles you? That when you finally break into pieces in front of Jesus, that is when you are gathered up, knit into a new creation and marked blessed deep within your sou.? What if a pure heart, is indeed your broken heart…a broken heart set free by that most amazing love of God…a broken heart set free to transform the world?