This weekend I cut my left index finger on an immersion blender. (It’s one of those “wand” blenders that is portable, you can use it in just about any container.) Some of the stuff I was mashing got clogged in the bottom, and I decided to clean it out with my finger without unplugging first. My right hand inadvertently squeezed the “on” button, and within nanoseconds I popped my bleeding finger in my mouth, ran up the stairs before I could terrify my children, and sat there afraid to pull it out and find out how bad it was.
(Yes, I do know that the mouth is one of the germiest places in the body. It was instinct. What can I say?)
Upon surveying the damage, I realized right away how lucky I had been. Neither cut had gone through muscle or bone. Still, I was totally unprepared for this relatively minor medical emergency. I had only a small box of Bandaids and a tube of Neosporin. No medical tape, no gauze, no peroxide. Getting three kids in the car and driving to the drugstore with a bleeding hand was not an option, but luckily my dad came to the rescue and brought me everything I needed to wrap up my finger and get started on the healing process.
My littlest daughter Olivia was the one most concerned about my injury. She even cried. I assured her that everything would be fine, but that it would take a while to heal. “It’s going to hurt for a few days,” I told her. “Then as it starts to heal, it will probably feel itchy and a little uncomfortable, but that’s how I know it’s healing. And I may have to wear the bandage for a few days.” Explaining what to expect seemed to calm her down, and as each day passed I have shown her the wound and how it is getting better.
This has gotten me thinking about how healing works. For the most part, healing is a natural process over which I am almost entirely powerless. The body’s reflex is to repair itself; it’s not something I can force or stop. But healing is something to which I can contribute by my actions; I can cooperate with it, or I can obstruct it and prolong my pain or even make it worse. And the appropriate actions to take change depending on what stage of healing I’m in. During the first few days, it was important to keep the wound bandaged to hold the cut together and keep infection out. But by Monday night, I could see that the wound was already not as deep as it had been, and I decided it was time for some air to get in and do its magic. The same cut on someone else might have taken more time to close. I have a friend who cut his finger a week earlier, and his was still bandaged more than a week later. What’s right for my healing may not be best for someone else’s healing.
I have to wonder if the same holds true for spiritual healing. There’s “God’s part,” which would be the natural process itself, and then there’s “my part,” which is knowing how to tend the injury without getting in God’s way, when to ask for help or go to see a doctor, and examining the wound from time to time to determine whether to keep it covered or let the air get to it.
My pastor says that back when he was a child, Advent was referred to as the “little Lent,” as reflected by the use of purple as the color of both liturgical seasons, a symbol of repentance. I personally have always like to think of both Advent and Lent as being seasons of spiritual healing, with the repentance part being a bit like the examination of our wounds and the physical discomfort we feel during the physical healing process – frightening, irritating, necessary, and thankfully temporary. This past weekend, however, was Gaudete Sunday, or the “pink candle” Sunday of Advent as I referred to it as a child, which always features scripture readings about joy and hope and gladness. It’s a bit like that day I take the bandage off and let the air and light hit my healing but still visible wound.
While the Third Sunday of Advent is usually a welcome break from the somber message of repentance, this past weekend it was very difficult to think about rejoicing in the wake of the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. It seemed almost sacrilegious to hear the words of the prophet Zephaniah, “You have no further misfortune to fear,” or the words of St. Paul to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Yes, we Christians are called to be people of hope no matter what situation befalls us, but in the earliest days of grief and loss, words of hope and joy ring flat, if they ring at all.
I venture to guess that no one reading this experienced a personal loss on December 14, 2012. But like my four year old daughter, we are sitting on the sidelines empathizing with the pain we were witnessing, and our feelings are very raw. Some of us have probably cried. And like my little Olivia, we need the calming words of someone to say, “Yes, it still hurts. And it’s going to hurt for a while, even while it’s healing. But if we do our part to take care of the wound, it will heal. Yes, there will always be a scar, but the wound will heal, I promise.”
I’m not sure how we, on the sidelines of this tragedy, will heal, or how long it will take. I don’t know what actions we must take to help the wound to close. There are many people who throw out solutions like gun control and mental health parity and armed guards and prayer in schools. In my opinion, all of those ideas have some merit, just as having an emergency kit in my home has some merit, or going to get stitches might have had merit. But these solutions are in many ways just a Bandaid; they might make us feel better because we believe we have to do something, but I question whether they will have any practical effect on the deeper wound. I now have emergency supplies. But I chose not to get stitches because I thought that might be expensive and unnecessary, and judging by the looks of my finger today, I did not make the wrong decision. Healing involves us doing our part, whatever that is. But before I jump into solutions, it is good for me to remember that the bulk of the healing process involves doing nothing but waiting for time and nature to do its part.
The urge to do something after a tragedy seems to be a powerful human reflex – to meet evil head on with good. The words of John the Baptist in this weekend’s Gospel offer me something practical to do while I’m waiting for the healing to happen. The crowds were asking John what they should do to “prepare the way of the Lord,” and his answer was simple. “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” He told the tax collectors not to take more than the law allowed, and he told soldiers to stop using their power to bully people and to be content with their pay. Generosity, justice, and contentment. These are the things we should cultivate as we watch our national wound heal day by day.
I find it interesting that Ann Curry (formerly of the NBC Today Show and my personal favorite media personality) offered nearly the same suggestion – that we commit 27 acts of kindness for each person lost in Newtown. I can’t think of a better way to tend our wounds in the aftermath of this unthinkable violence.
Pink Sunday is all about hope and healing, and as we watch the little ones being laid to rest this week with heavy, aching hearts, I can’t help but think of the darkness of that first Advent into which Christ was born. Violence was as much a way of life back then in Roman-occupied Hebrew lands as it ever was now, as was poverty, government control, racial discrimination, terrorism. I also think about the early Church and the Church of the Middle Ages which celebrated this season of Advent just as we do today – they, too, experienced unspeakable violence and destruction of human life on a daily basis. Even so, they embraced Pink Sunday year after year. We need Pink Sunday today as much as any generation or era that has ever gone before, don’t we? No matter how far we think our society has progressed, the truth is that we still very much live in darkness. The need for a Savior is as relevant to us as it was to the ancient Hebrews. The Christmas story teaches us that God comes in the midst of the darkness and that healing is possible. Advent is about doing our part to get out of the way as we wait for the healing to come.