It’s nearly Christmas! And Jo has been setting up her PT room with equipment that has been sent up from one of the care centers in the Henan Province. Due to funding needs right now, one of the nurseries is empty and so Jo has been given use of that room for treating kiddos. It’s a nice large open space for physical therapy. Recently, a little wheelchair was donated from the U.S. and Jo excitedly identified the kids that could benefit from starting to learn to propel a wheelchair (and the kids love it!). It will give them a head start for when they find themselves in their families-to-be, and improves their quality of life in the present as well. Jo is a natural at purposeful play and keeping kids interested in the PT task at hand; it’s a beautiful thing to see.
While I train to cover some responsibilities for the Deputy Director, Becca Shook, while she is on maternity leave, I’m also contributing to the identification and development of a new cloud based document management and communication platform for the organization. The timing couldn’t be more perfect: the solution that will likely work the best is the same system that we used at my former organization, Children’s Choice. There are a lot of moving parts with the communications challenges in the country and multiple care centers spread out over a large area, so I will be busy helping the Medical Director and the Henan director switch the organization over to the new system.
While we plug-in here and start to realize how good of a fit we are for our roles in caring for these kids, we are also cognizant of the temptation to rely on our “relevance” and “abilities” too much. It is easy in difficult places to use these things as shields, as hiding places. To continue to be open to the emotional pain of kids we work for is a daily task. Our nature is to avoid such pain, avoid such existential questions. As Richard Rohr relates in Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of St. Francis in an Age of Anxiety (public library), to avoid the pain of humanity is to miss out on the transformative message of the cross. What is at stake is the difference between a do-gooder and a disciple.
How do we then lean into the transformative pattern of faith in the Crucified? I don’t know. Still working on finishing Rohr’s book.
But I have started watching the sunrise differently. Sound travels easily in the care center and every morning we awake to the calls, shouts and hollers of the kids downstairs (who wake up at 5 every morning). This along with the late rise of the winter sun has given me the opportunity to stumble upon the sunrise as a spiritual discipline, although I am sure others have reflected on it as such before. To sit at our large, south-facing window and watch darkness turn to light. Being still and watching the sunrise. Watching the darkness turn to light like an Advent candle burning bright.
The spiritual discipline is in the posture — simple presence. The two default postures, of which I am serially drawn into are fixing and avoiding. In this simple example, you can fix the darkness: hit the light switch. Or you can avoid it: get back into bed. These two postures are what Rohr labels as “fight” or “flight” responses to painful realities, and he points out that neither is the way of Jesus. Neither is transformative in its impact on the world around them; both make things worse instead of better.
There is much darkness in a world where kids have complex medical needs and those same kids don’t have families to care for them as only families can. Daily contact with such kids can bring up very sad realities and existential questions–if not avoided. Yes, it is difficult to trust that God is in all things, but if we just tell ourselves the platitude without sitting with the painful questions, holding the questions, then we will never grow into the answers. Indeed, as Rohr asserts, God is present in the questions, the tensions and contradictions. And that is good news of great joy.
I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.