This week I resumed my ministry of offering blessings outside. Only now I have a special mask to match my stole (green for the season of Pentecost), and I draw an "X" with sidewalk chalk to show people where to stand (6 feet away).
My blessing hiatus lasted nearly four months with the pandemic. Our neighborhood was eerily desolate during lockdown, and while foot traffic has increased, it's far from the normal hustle and bustle with a mass of morning commuters. But the buses still roar by. So between masks and social distancing, every exchange I have involves lots of yelling just to understand what the other person is saying. A little awkward, but not much of a deterrent, for those who stop are super eager to talk. I guess most of us have been so deprived of face-to-face conversation that merely interacting with someone can feel like a precious moment you're reluctant to end. It feels that way to me at least.
Of course the "talkers" are usually people who share my love of witnessing to the power of God, and they can go on at length under any circumstances. One such person was a woman wearing a mask that pictured a drawing of the Virgin Mary with the words "Our Lady of the Savior.” She shared some highlights of her life story, stressing the hardships she'd overcome only by God's grace. She described Jesus as "my Lord and my Love," which I found quite moving. And then she told me that she prayed Jesus would give her just a little of the pain he experienced on the cross. This was a new one for me.
Suffering is certainly a pervasive theme in Scripture just as it is in life. It can help a great deal to see our own pain as consistent with, and perhaps even prescribed by, the Biblical narrative we claim as our own. It can help a great deal to ask Jesus to enter into our pain rather than asking him to take it away. But what about entering into his pain? What about inviting his suffering? That seems a bit scary, if not masochistic. It also harkens back to a time when some Christians would practice self-mortification as a form of penance. (Too bad the body positive movement wasn't around then.)
I can't speak to what this woman meant exactly by her prayer for pain. But her deep devotion to Jesus reminds me that his pain was an expression of his deep devotion to us. Praying to receive his pain could be praying to receive his heart. A heart that breaks over injustice and is moved to act in love.
St. Ignatius of Loyola famously prayed to Mary, "Place me with your Son." In response, he received a vision not of Jesus hanging on the cross but of Jesus carrying the cross. He interpreted it as a call to serve.
“Place me with your Son." This is a prayer I can get behind. Although given my Protestant sensibilities, I'll be praying it to God the Father rather than Mary. Care to join me?
Place me with your Son.
Knowing it will sometimes hurt, place me with your Son.
Knowing it's what the world needs, place me with your Son.
Knowing I’ll have abundant life, place me with your Son.
Place me with your Son, my Lord and my Love. Amen.