Reflection – 13th Sunday of the Year

While I was working in Truro parish Nova Scotia a parishioner, in her will, left her small house to the parish. The property was adjacent to the church property.

Together with the parish council we began to look at possibilities for the property. A number of options were suggested: a religious education centre; a residence for the parish priest, enabling the parish to sell the big, two-thirds-empty house I now lived in; tearing down the house to create a memorial park or expand the church parking lot.

Then a group of the town’s residents asked to meet with the council. They proposed that the house be used as a temporary shelter for battered women, a safe place where women and their children could escape an abusive husband and begin the process of rebuilding their lives.

The council listened politely and empathetically. Then the “buts” started . . .

It’s important work, but the house would be empty most of the time.

Do we want to get involved in these family situations?

Can we really make a difference here?

What about liability, the safety of parishioners who work on this, potential damage to the property?

A member of the parish council said nothing during the barrage of questions and concerns. Finally she asked to speak. She told her own story of being in an abusive relationship years before and that a house like this and the group who maintained it had saved her life and her daughter’s. She had never spoken about it before but felt she needed to speak up now.  This is more important than you know, she said quietly.

So the little house became Bethany House, named after the home of Martha and Mary and Lazarus, the friends of Jesus with whom he often stayed. Members of the parish stepped forward to fix up the house and furnish it. And it has been a safe place for families battered by the winds of abuse and hardship.

In a storm of doubt and scepticism, the “sleeping” Jesus awakens in the courage of a woman whose powerful story leads her parish to take on a challenging but important ministry in their community. We don’t realize that the Gospel Jesus “sleeps” within our own “boats”; he “awakens” during the most difficult and demanding storms we encounter, enabling us to do what is right and just. Within each of us is the grace of the “awakened” Jesus in today’s Gospel: the wisdom, the patience, the courage to discern the presence of God amid the storms of tension, fear, anxiety, and injustice we experience. In our turbulent, whirlwind lives, we need to pay attention to the voice of Jesus speaking to us in the voices of encouragement and hope in our midst; we need to consciously call on the “awakened” Jesus to speak his word of wisdom and grace amid the roar of anger and mistrust that surround us. The voice of Jesus speaks to us in the encouragement and support of others calling us beyond the fears, misgivings and doubts that stop us from embracing life to the full, of realizing the grace of God’s presence in our everyday lives, of daring to be the means of that grace for others.

As Frederick Buechner writes in his book Secrets of the Dark: “Christ sleeps in the deepest selves of all of us, and whatever we do in whatever time we have left, wherever we go, may we in whatever way we can call on him as the fishermen did in their boat to come awake within us and to give us courage, to give us hope, to show us, each one, our way. May he be with us especially when the winds go mad and the waves run wild, as they will for all of us before we’re done, so that even in their midst we may find peace, find him.”