Sunday, February 07, 2010

Thursday in Rome

Today is the final day in a series of four straight days of anniversaries.  While all four are deeply personal to me, the ones that are perhaps the most personal are the first, and today, the last.

Two years ago today was the day I have come to refer to as "Thursday in Rome."  It's a title that holds certain connotations for me, and, when I want to communicate what I'm experiencing in a given, difficult day, I will sometimes refer to that day as being very "Thursday in Rome-ish".

Today is probably the one anniversary that I am most free to write about too, though I remain cognizant of the others who were part of each of those days, and the fact that at least some of these moments were not mine, alone, and that I can write only from my own experience of those days. 

Thursday in Rome was something unique in my experience.

Three days prior I'd had perhaps the most profound waking encounter with Jesus of my life to date.  A deeply personal moment, that was never going to be shared.  All of that changed the next day with it's own events that are marked in my memory.  Ash Wednesday came and went in it's own profound way, and I woke that Thursday in the midst of a battle.

I was chattering as we prepared for the day, attempting to ignore or still the incredible stirrings inside of me.  It wasn't working, and one of the things I remember most was a dear friend asking me to be quiet for a bit as we prepared for the day.  Not meanly, just needing her own quiet.

I tried to lose myself in a book.  Sara Miles' "Take This Bread".  The passages I read that morning made me cringe, and the voices, the wrestle, the battle in my head only grew louder.

The group I was with dressed and headed out, walking towards St. Peter's Square, with the intention of visiting the Vatican museums.

I remember feeling uncharacteristically quiet and distant from my friends as we walked.

One eventually noticed and asked if I was okay.  I remember being angry in some ways at her question.  Irrationally angry, both that I had been noticed, and that it had taken so long to be noticed.  I remember feeling curt in my response.  Simply saying that I was not okay, but refusing to share more, to give voice to the wrestles I was experiencing.

The walk from St. Peter's Square to the entrances to the Vatican Museum is one that is burned in my memory.  So many people.  And beggars.

The beggars of Rome were stunning.  Perhaps because I'd been in Malta for four weeks, where I'd seen no evidence of beggars - refugees in camps, but not beggars.  The beggars of Rome were something different.  They were what I'd imagined always when I'd read the biblical stories of people laying at the entrances to buildings, and along the waysides where Jesus and the apostles walked.  Not the homeless drunks, mostly native americans, that I'd grown used to in downtown Calgary.  These people were often physically deformed.  In my memory, the words that go with them are "beggars of biblical proportions."

On the walk to the museum, there was one in particular, that caught the attention of our group.  It was a moment I'll never forget, and one that I was totally unable to engage with in the moment.  I remember only that he was very special, that the children and my friends stopped for a moment.

I looked away.

It's something I'm ashamed of, but I simply could not engage with that in that moment, and in the midst of the battle I was already fighting, it magnified feelings of hypocrisy that I still wrestle with.  I care deeply about social justice and poverty issues, but the poor themselves scare me.  I grew up in a home marked by the controlling fears of an abuse victim, and that is the lens I struggle against when I meet beggars on the streets of Calgary.  I see each beggar as one who is dangerous and likely to attack me, rape me, violate me.  I have a hard time seeing through that fear to the person.  I will lie and say I have no change, simply to get the person to go away.  I often don't have change, but sometimes I do, and in those moments I've lied more often than not.  It's something I'm working on.  Something God is changing in my heart.

In some ways that change started that day, in the moment I looked away.  As I think back, my memory quietly assures me that that beggar was harmless, and that he was beautiful.  That he glowed in a special way.  And today I regret that I looked away, and that moment comes to mind, and I try to engage differently (though not always with any degree of success.)  I wonder at times if he was not an angel, visible and ministering in various ways to the hearts of our little group.

We walked through the museum, viewing various things.  I remember how poignant some of those moments were.  A friend pointing out a painting, and it's description, and me cringing, for it hit deeply in the same way the passages I'd read that morning had.  Michelangelo's "The Last Judgment" in the Sistine Chapel stands out to me.  Particularly some of the darker creatures near the bottom of the painting (the only parts at eye level, really, but indicative too, of the wrestle of that day for me.)

I have a preference for invisibility - in day to day life, and in dealing with the spiritual realm.  I prefer to walk unnoticed, away from the center of attention.  Part of the immensity of that day was that I felt as if I was being followed by a spotlight, and I wanted nothing so much as to crawl into a corner and hide.

There are a few other clear memories - picnic lunch in St. Peter's Square.  Cringing as the wind carried droplets of water from the fountain and pushed them against my skin, for this too, reminded me of the issues I was questioning.  Sitting near to a dear friend, her arm around me, resting for a few moments.

From there the day grows blurry, though I know that I wrote off and on in a journal, that we visited many other locations, that we walked for hours, that eventually I let the wrestles have a voice and become tangible, sharing with a dear friend.

I thought that day about questions of communion and baptism and family.  I was wondering how I'd take the seemingly surreal events of a five week trip, the spiritual realities I'd experienced that my family simply never discussed or acknowledged, and return to my life at home.  How on earth I'd sanitize the trip into something I could share with the church I'd grown up in, the church I was attending at the time, that had so generously donated money and prayed for me as I traveled.  How I'd create a "Mr. Clean" version of the events.  And how I'd share at all, when so many of the things that were coming from the trip seemed to be only just beginning, and so deeply internal within me - things not even I understood.

Two years later, and that day still stands out in my memory.

There have been many other days when I felt I was being followed by that spot light.

Other days where I have wrestled and continue to wrestle with those same questions.

There was a longing birthed that day of which I am still waiting and praying for completion and fulfillment.

And so, today, I pause and remember, and pray again for all of those things that were stirred within me.  With thanks for the changes that have begun to be formed, and with the hopeful longing for the fulfillment of Paul's words in Philippians, likely written in that same city in which I walked, "that God, who began a good work within me, will carry it on to completion in the day of Christ Jesus."