On the seventh day of this month, we took a long walk to our destination. On our way there, we encountered a stray, of the human kind.
From afar, I was struck by his skin, smeared in black, and the way his torn t-shirt was draped to the side like a monk’s orange robe.
The scowl on his face and the way he was striding forth commands you to get out of his way.
Even so, a part of me wanted to stop him and to speak with him. But I traced his right bared arm to his hand, clenched tightly around a bottle of liquor, now empty. I feared he could hit me with it.
So I stood aside, he stalked right by, and the sudden stench of sewage overpowered the air, trailing his misery.
I slipped my hand into the hand of the one I was walking with, and held on tight.
“Why, are you scared? Do you fear that man?” he asked.
No. I was looking for comfort. I was thinking about how tightly that man was holding on to his bottle. An empty bottle. It was his lifeline. His only way of numbing his pain. I feel pity for him… his outer condition is a reflection of his inner condition, and it’s clear he’s in a very, very bad state…
Google defines Pity as “the feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the sufferings and misfortunes of others.” I believe this feeling of sorrow and compassion can only arise from having once recognised ourselves, in them.
I remember only too well, a time in my life when I, too, felt lost and “homeless”. In my time of wandering, I identified with the beggars and the strays on the streets. It was a humbling time of transitioning, where I was brought to my knees by the awareness of my own ‘drunken stupor’ from my various addictions.
I was a human in need of grace.
“Grace is the invisible advocate of freedom and the absolute expression of perfect love.
…grace seeks us but will not control us. Saint Augustine once said that God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them. If our hands are full, they are full of the things to which we are addicted.
And not only our hands, but also our hearts, minds and attention are clogged with addiction. Our addictions fill up the spaces within us, spaces where grace might flow…
…we may not be able to make our hands completely empty in order to receive the gifts of grace, but we can choose whether to relax our hands a little or to keep clenching them ever more tightly.
…simply relaxing one’s hands may seem too passive. As we shall see, however, this simple choice may be the greatest kind of struggle any human being can face, and it may call forth the greatest courage and dedication…
…We may go through a great deal of humbling, if not outright humiliation, before we come to this simplicity of hope. We do not like admitting defeat, and we will struggle valiantly, even foolishly, to prove that we can master our destinies.
God, in whose image we are made, instills in us the capacity for relentless tenacity, an assertiveness that complements our yearning hunger for God. But most of us overdo it; our spirit of assertiveness quickly becomes a spirit of pride.
We will never really turn to God in loving openness as long as we are handling things well enough by ourselves. And it is precisely our most powerful addictions that cause us to defeat ourselves, that bring us to the rock bottom realization that we cannot finally master everything.
Thus, although in one sense addiction is the enemy of grace, it can also be a powerful channel for the flow of grace.
Addiction can be, and often is, the thing that brings us to our knees.
…it is possible that at some point in our journey with addiction and grace, we might even come to see addiction as a kind of gift.
…Addictions teaches us not to be too proud. Sooner or later, addiction will prove to us that we are not gods.
Then we will realize that we are our own worst enemies; we cannot beat ourselves. At that point, when we have exhausted all the available false repositories for our hope, it is possible that we will turn to God with a true sense of who we are, with an integrity that is both humble and confident, with a dignity that knows itself because it has met its limits.
Hope can sometimes be an elusive thing, and occasionally it must come to us with pain.
But it is there, irrevocably. Like freedom, hope is a child of grace, and grace cannot be stopped. I refer once more to Saint Paul, a man who, I am convinced, understood addiction: “Hope will not be denied, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.” – Gerald G.May, ‘Addiction & Grace’.
“Fear less, hope more; Eat less, chew more; Whine less, breathe more; Talk less, say more; Love more, and all good things will be yours.”- Swedish Proverb
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